What Do I Need to Know About Peanut Allergies?

peanuts in shell
Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies in Canada. Below, we answer your most common questions about living with a peanut allergy.

What is a peanut allergy?
What are the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction? 
Do kids with a peanut allergy have the same symptoms as adults?
Can kids outgrow peanut allergies?
If I am allergic to peanuts, can I eat tree nuts?
If I am allergic to peanuts, can I eat peanut oil?
Do you have a list of foods that contains or may contain peanuts?

What is a peanut allergy?

A peanut allergy is a reaction that involves your body’s immune system. When you have a peanut allergy, your immune system thinks the peanut proteins are harmful and triggers different symptoms.
Peanuts are one of the nine most common food allergens in Canada. The other eight are: wheat, tree nuts (such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and walnuts), sesame seeds, milk, eggs, seafood, soy and sulphites (a food additive).

What are the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction? 

An allergic reaction to peanuts can happen within minutes or up to several hours after eating foods containing peanuts. Symptoms vary from person to person, and may progress from mild to severe. A person experiencing an allergic reaction to peanuts may experience one or a combination of these symptoms:

Mild signs and symptoms
  • flushed face and body
  • itchy eyes, nose, face and skin
  • tingling, numbness or pain in the lips and tongue
Moderate to severe signs and symptoms
  • swelling of the eyes, face, lips, throat and tongue
  • hives 
  • cramps, diarrhea, vomiting 
  • wheezing, coughing 
  • weakness, dizziness 
  • anxiety, distress, sense of fear and doom
Signs of anaphylaxis
  • difficulty talking 
  • difficulty swallowing 
  • difficulty breathing 
  • drop in blood pressure 
  • rapid heartbeat 
  • unconsciousness

These are some symptoms of the most serious form of allergy called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Do kids with a peanut allergy have the same symptoms as adults?

The symptoms are the same, but kids may have a different way of describing them.

Young children may put their hands in their mouth, or try to pull or scratch their tongue. Their speech may become slurred, hoarse, or squeaky.

Here’s what your child might say if they are experiencing a reaction to peanuts:

  • “This food is too spicy.” 
  • “My tongue is hot/burning.” 
  • “It feels like something is poking my tongue.” 
  • “My tongue/mouth is tingling/burning.” 
  • “My tongue/mouth itches.” 
  •  “My tongue feels like there is hair on it.” 
  •  “My mouth feels funny.” 
  •  “There’s a frog in my throat.” 
  •  “There’s something stuck in my throat.” 
  •  “My tongue feels full/heavy.” 
  •  “My lips feel tight.” 
  •  “My ears feel like there are bugs in there.” 
  •  “My throat feels thick.” 
  •  “It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue/throat.”

If you think that your child is having an allergic reaction, take them to the hospital immediately.

Can kids outgrow peanut allergies?

It was once thought that peanut allergies would last a lifetime. Today, studies suggest that about 20% of children diagnosed with a peanut allergy can outgrow it. Always talk to your allergy specialist first before reintroducing peanuts or peanut products back into your child’s diet.

Looking for peanut-free lunches and snacks to pack for school? UnlockFood has lots of ideas, like this kid-approved Bagel Boomerang.

If I am allergic to peanuts, can I eat tree nuts?

Tree nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts grow on trees, and do not belong in the same family as peanuts. In fact, peanuts are a member of the legume family along with lentils, dried peas and beans.

However, since some foods made with tree nuts (such as a can of mixed nuts) might also contain peanuts, they should be avoided.

To be safe, you should read the label on all products containing tree nuts if you have a peanut allergy and especially if you’ve had an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts.

Note that if you have either a peanut or tree nut allergy, it is usually still safe to eat legumes - but you should discuss this with your allergist to be sure.

If I am allergic to peanuts, can I eat peanut oil? 

No. To be safe, it is recommended that people with peanut allergies avoid using peanut oil or eating foods made with peanut oil.

Do you have a list of foods that contains or may contain peanuts?

Canadian guidelines require that peanut-containing products are clearly labeled. Always read the ingredient list carefully. The ingredient list will say “Contains: Peanuts” if it contains this ingredient. If a product does not contain peanuts, but there is a risk of the food having come into contact with peanut (cross-contamination), you will see “may contain peanut” listed at the end of the ingredient list. You should also avoid these foods.
You can find a list of foods that may contain peanuts here.
If you’re not sure whether a food may contain peanuts, always call the food manufacturer. If you don’t recognize a food ingredient or if there is no ingredient list, don’t eat it.

And remember, products are always changing.  This means that some of your favourite peanut-free foods might not be peanut free the next time you purchase them.  Always read the ingredients list to be safe. 

Be informed. Sign up for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) free email “Food Recalls and Allergy Alerts” notification service.

Is there anything else I should know?

Be careful when dining out. Always tell the staff about your allergy and double check that the meal is peanut free before you eat it.

If you are preparing food for someone with a peanut allergy, be careful with cross-contamination, which happens when a small amount of peanut gets into a food by accident. For example, don’t dip a knife that you used to spread peanut butter into the jam as now the jam may contain traces of peanut.


How can a dietitian help?

Does your child have a peanut allergy? Are you having trouble finding nourishing lunches your child can bring to school? A dietitian can suggest school lunches that are not only peanut-free, but that meet your child’s unique preferences and nutrient needs.

Are there staff at your workplace who have food allergies? A dietitian can help workplaces become allergy-aware by providing workshops on a variety of topics such as label reading and packing healthy lunches. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

When you have a peanut allergy or are preparing food for someone with a peanut allergy, be allergy safe. Always read food labels, avoid cross-contamination and be careful when dining out. If you aren’t sure about whether a food contains peanuts, don’t eat it.

You may also be interested in:

Food Allergies and Intolerances
Peanut-free Lunches and Snacks
Food Allergies and Babies
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada.


Last Update – October 28, 2021

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