Does My Daughter Really Have A Deathly Nut Allergy? I’m Skeptical

In the time since my daughter was diagnosed as being deathly allergic to walnuts, pecans and filberts, and highly allergic to many other tree nuts, she has eaten hazelnut pudding, drunk a bowl of almond milk, slurped down some pesto-coated spaghetti, downed an almond-laden piece of baklava and eaten walnut bread. And she hasn’t died.

In fact, she hasn’t even had a reaction. I’m beginning to suspect that she may not be allergic — or, at least, as allergic as we were told.

To be completely honest, I was always skeptical about allergies. Then, shortly after our oldest turned one, I gave her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from Panera. Red streaks started appearing on her face and it seemed she was having trouble breathing. My husband and I rushed her to the emergency room where she was pumped full of Benadryl. After a few hours of observation, they let us go, suggesting we go see an allergist.

We went to the allergist and they gave her those pin-prick tests. After administering it, I think they said they’d be back in 15 minutes or something like that. But within just a few minutes, the little pin pricks of allergens were causing a major reaction. The doctor explained exactly what she was allergic to and what she wasn’t. She was as allergic as one could possibly be to walnuts, for instance. And — and this surprised me — she wasn’t actually that allergic to peanuts. That ranked at the low rung. I assumed that previous peanut butter incident must have involved a mixture with tree nuts. The allergist said, we could try giving her peanut butter again. She told us that three years ago and I still haven’t had the courage to do it. I always think, “Is today a good day for a run to the ER if things go south?” Today is never a good day for a run to the ER. Ergo, sunflower butter sandwiches for everyone.

Every year we get epi-pens and we carry them with us and keep one at her school and train the babysitters how to use it.

And yet, I’m not entirely sure she’s actually allergic.

I’m fairly careful about just keeping her away from nuts. But there have been incidents. I forgot to ask the waitress at the hip Cobble Hill diner what kind of pudding came with the kid’s meal until she took a bite. Hazelnut. Her aunt forgot that almond milk has nuts in it, only remembering when my husband asked her what the heck had she put our daughter’s cereal in considering we had no milk in the house. Grandparents and caretakers have had momentary lapses. It happens to all of us.

None of these lapses have resulted in a reaction. Isn’t that weird? Particularly the time someone fed her walnut bread with huge chunks of walnut in it. Consuming walnuts is supposed to result in an anaphylactic response. And yet she had no response at all.

I asked the allergist about the situation and she said that my daughter’s test results were valid and that she wouldn’t grow out of tree nut allergies. She said that sometimes people are just allergic to the skins of nuts and not the meat of the nut. It’s certainly possible that all of these mistakes with nuts involved only their meat and not their skin, but I’m just kind of suspicious.

If we’re going to have to live our lives around avoiding nuts, I’d like to be absolutely sure that she’s got them.

Oh, another thing. When we first got her diagnosis, the allergist implored upon us to not even bring food items into our house if they had been made in a facility that processes tree nuts. But we already knew that she’d consumed tons of stuff that had been processed in facilities that process tree nuts. So we didn’t abide by that restriction. We’ve never had anything even close to a problem.

Should I just go to a second allergist? Should I continue to live my life in abject fear of my daughter encountering nuts? Has anyone else encountered a similar situation?

(Photo: coka/Shutterstock)

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    • Christi

      I’m almost 25 and have been allergic to peanuts since I was a babe. I later developed allergies to pecans, almonds, and so on. Peanuts are definitely the most severe, but the rest follow suit. I would suggest seeing another allergist and getting your daughter retested. Nut allergies are such a pain in our culture, as peanuts are prevalent, everywhere. If she is in fact not allergic, you’re saving her years of dancing around nuts, avoiding everything from Thai food, various bakeries, and ice cream shops.

    • Bailey

      A few years ago I had an allergic reaction to something I ate for dinner and ended up in the ER. I’ve never been able to pinpoint what caused the reaction and I’ve never had one again. I’ve always thought it was strange, but from what I understand, allergies can be that way.

      • Mollie Hemingway

        Man do I hope that’s the case with my little one.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lindsaychartman Lindsay Cross

        I didn’t end up in the hospital, but I after one lunch carry-in in the office, I broke out in horrible hives. I had them in my eyes and everything. It was terrible. I have no idea what caused it and I’ve never had a single reaction since then. I mean, I’ve never had any allergies at all aside from that one experience.

      • Frances

        This happened to me when I was 16 or 17. I had a terrible reaction to something while out shopping that gave me hives all up my hands and arms. My fingers were so swollen I couldn’t close my fists, it was scary. They never figured out what caused it to this day.

      • Julie

        Also happened to me when I was in my early 20′s. I ended up in the ER with hands so swollen they looked like water balloons. It started with a small red rash on my wrists and then quickly spread up my arms and then the swelling started. It never happened before and hasn’t happened since and we never figured out what caused it.

    • Molly

      Definitely see a couple of other allergists and get here retested. I have a number of food allergies (One to shellfish that will kill me really fast), but not all of them are instant reactions. I know nut allergies have a rep for being fast-acting, but she may not have reacted because she didn’t have any build-up in her system. For example, I’m allergic to apples, but one bite won’t cause a reaction. However, if I have a little bit of apple for 3 or 4 days in a row, ‘ll get sick by the 3rd day. A good allergist can help you figure out the exact triggers and will want to help you figure out the easiest way to live with your daughter’s allergies. A bad one may just say “she won’t outgrow it and there’s nothing you can do,” but a good allergist will at least try to look at options with you.

    • MJ

      I recommend seeing another allergist, but if the results are the same I strongly encourage you to take the recommended precautions to avoid the offending foods. A friend of mine recently DIED from a peanut allergy that she didn’t think was a big deal. I used to be skeptical about this stuff too, but never again.

    • Somnilee

      My friend Beth went through a stage of being allergic to darn near everything when she was 2-3 years old, but they had a couple of lapses and she survived so they got her checked out again. By 4, most of the allergies had gone and to this day I think she only has mild eczema and allergies to pet dander. I wouldn’t want to presume, but it does seem to be that for some children allergies are something they “grow through”, so I’d definitely get her checked again.

      • Somnilee

        Then again, I’ve just remembered that latex allergy runs in our family yet when my father was tested for it a few years back with a pinprick test he was negative to it, along with shellfish which we know he is badly allergic to.

    • Sid

      This is a really interesting topic and not one I’ve seen discussed near enough. As someone who tested positive multiple times for MANY serious allergies as a child, I can tell you that most (all?) allergy tests are not worth the time or money. They just can’t replicate the actual experience of an allergic reaction. Many of my allergies have co-factors (eg my dust and cat allergies get worse when I drink red wine) and the manner of contact also plays a huge role (e.g. ingestion versus skin contact versus inhalation). Since I’ve stopped eating grains, I can tolerate dairy proteins much more. Despite testing negative for an allergy to fish proteins, even the smallest bit of salmon gives me an intense and instant reaction. Bottom line: watch your child’s actual reactions and act accordingly.

    • Vicky H

      Get a new allergist! a second opinion is never a bad thing.

      Your child has a life-threatening allergy to SOMETHING, and you doubt the allergist’s diagnosis about which food is causing the allergy!

      Recent recommendations from the AMA reflect the fact that the needle tests aren’t always accurate, so you need a doctor who sees the patient, not just the results of the prick tests!

      (Also, this is a personal anecdote, and therefore possibly not relevant: it is rare to out-grow a nut allergy, but not impossible! I out-grew my tree nut allergy, but not my peanut allergy.)

    • Andrea

      Did you know there are different types of allergies? Some people may not react when ingesting peanuts, but react when coming in contact (skin wise) to peanuts.

      I would definitely recommend going to another allergist and get a 2nd test, but it seems that you ALREADY had several tests that tell you she isn’t allergic.

      This article sorta confirms my theory that the whole peanut thing is horribly overblown out of proportion. I don’t remember ANYONE having a peanut allergy when I was kid and these days it seems you can’t swing a cat without hitting a peanut allergy kid.

      • moonkitty

        I’m over 40 and I remember some of the kids in my school having peanut allergy.

      • Sara Haaf

        I think it has more to do with our genetically modified foods than things being overblown. And usually kids just died back in the day if they had allergies.

      • Sam

        Same here. Never ever knew of a single kid with a nut allergy (and I went to three different elementary schools with an average student body of 1,000 kids; also went to overnight camp in another state every summer, so I came into contact with a fairly large group of kids).

        @Sara Haaf, agree somewhat that there may be a link with genetically modified foods, but as far as Andrea’s anecdotal evidence, I don’t think it qualifies as ‘back in the day.’ (Unless she is 95 years old!)

      • CC

        1in 12 has a food allergy and they are VERY real. Gone are the days of we didnt have them back in the day. They are here and everyone needs to get educated and prepare to handle them. The leading hypothesis suggests our cleaner environment has lead to the sudden spike in allergies. Makes sense from a common sense approach.

        Raising a well adjusted kid who happens to have food allergies starts with you. Its a medical condition, not a personality trait. How parents handle it (with confidence and not living in fear) will help define their childs outlook. For those who have food allergies mishaps and mistakes can be deadly. Strict avoidance of said food is imperative. The public also discounting the seriousness of food allergies is also dangerous.

        Seeking medical advice of your childs FA is warranted vs public opinion on the internet.

    • Rose D.

      The pin prick test is stupid. There is far too much that could go wrong. See an allergist that will do a blood test for her allergens. It is more expensive, but much more reliable.

      • Stephanie

        Most allergists to the pin prick method. It’s more efficient, and in no way stupid. The amount of allergen is to low for anything to “go wrong” the point of the test is to simulate a reaction …

      • Sunfire

        I agree with the Pin prick test being stupid. Before we found out my Husband had Chrons Disease, the pin prick test said he was allergic to every fruit out there…and other random things… It even said he was allergic to dairy, most trees and grass – He was not. His body had just stored too much fruit in his system and it caused issues with the test. The whole test read false because of it…

        The whole test was false… He had to redo the test later, once they figured out what was going on.. and he was not allergic to anything…

        Let me repeat that.. the whole test was wrong…

        I would go see someone else and get a second opinion.

      • Crowther Amanda-Beth

        Blood test is more prone to error. Allergy testing needs improvement but we have yet to figure out 100% successful way to diagnose other then eating ot which really isn’t safest

    • Sara

      I had a student whose parents didn’t believe he had a peanut allergy and sent him to school with peanutbutter crackers which he immediately had an life threatening reaction to when he opened them totally traumatizing his entire kindergarten class (not to mention the threat to him).

      Just make sure if you are safe when you do have her come into contact with them.

    • Morgan

      I have never had any problems with nuts, yet when I had an allergy test a few months ago, I came up as being incredibly allergic to all kinds of nuts. Like your daughter, my reactions popped up almost immediately after they pricked me. When I told them that I had never had an allergic reaction to nuts, they said I was probably allergic to the nut pollen, not the nuts themselves. I’d still be cautious, but I think it is time for you to see another allergist and see what they have to say.

    • Melissa

      I’d see another allergist and maybe get a blood test. Because that all seems just too weird.

      We had our 2 year old son tested for peanut allergies not long ago, based on the fact that every single time he has ever had peanuts, he immediately and violently vomits. The allergist said he did test positive, but based on his reaction of just vomiting – no rashes or breathing problems – there’s a possibility he could be in the small percentage of kids diagnosed with a peanut allergy that outgrow it. He said we’ll re-test in a year and see what happens. I appreciated that about the allergist we saw. It wasn’t all gloom and doom.

    • KL

      It’s not that strange! My sister is DEATHLY allergic to tree nuts. I’ve seen the reaction she gets after eating a walnut and pine nut pesto, and it’s terrifying. You never want to risk going into anaphylactic shock. Don’t fuck around with nut allergies.

      That said! Peanuts are legumes, NOT NUTS, so my sister is not allergic to those. Separate allergy. Almonds are related to peaches (they look like peach pits), so somehow she can eat those, too. Also, there are nut-free alternative pesto recipes, so it’s possible your ate one of those.

      • Justina

        Your sister and I literally sound like the same person! I’ve had walnut and pine nut pesto experiences that were NOT fun.

    • SarahJane86

      We have an almost identical story, except with dairy. My kid eats dairy every day and my paed said it was either a freak one off reaction and we’ll never know what caused it or a missed insect/ spider bite. We keep an epipen anyway.

    • hypatia

      From the Mayo Clinic

      “Keep in mind, skin tests aren’t always accurate. They sometimes indicate an allergy when there isn’t one (false positive) or skin testing may not trigger a reaction when you’re exposed to something that you are allergic to (false negative). You may react differently to the same test performed on different occasions. Or, you may react positively to a substance during a test but not react to it in everyday life.”

      So it is entirely possible that your daughter isn’t actually allergic to nuts and simply had a false positive. (Which seems likely given your um, extended, research) At the same time she could still be very allergic to peanuts and simply didn’t have a super pronounced reaction.

      I would definitely try the test again to see if it can ease your mind.

      A poor little girl I know suffered an allergic reaction and they had her go through all the pin tests. Poor thing came up at least mildly allergic to EVERYTHING and severely allergic to all the food items. At first they tried restricting her diet but it just became far too difficult for the family. So things slowly lapsed, and now they are back to their “normal” but haven’t had a single allergy reaction since.

      I think some people may be just more prone to false positives as well.

    • Ana

      You won’t be satisfied until you have another opinion (or two), so go to another allergist.

      However, not all of us have “deadly” reactions to our allergies. Or even to all our allergies. I only became snotty when I drank milk, for example. But I became very sick when I combined lemon AND yellow food dye. And even then, not even once I had to go to ER. It just looked like I caught a very bad flu that just didn’t go away (I visited several doctors before my allergist). It could have had complications, but they rarely did. I usually just stayed sick for a month or so (because my parents didn’t knew what I was allergic to, and continued giving me milk, chocolate or strawberries, to mention some, so they continued the allergy).

      So, it might be a small thing. Even if it isn’t, your daughter’s life shouldn’t be ruled by an allergy. She could get treatment and get “rid” of them (more like used to them). It involves getting shots twice a week for five years… Yes, I know it sounds horrible. It isn’t. They don’t hurt. I was five when I started the treatment and they don’t hurt. Parents worry more than kids. And five years later… BAM! You can eat everything you want, go everywhere you want or live in a zoo if that’s what you want. During the treatment you get from “don’t even mention them” to “give her very small portions”. You’ll become less worried and she’ll be able to do whatever she wants. If you talk to her, she’ll understand.

    • Heather

      There are some great anecdotes here, but unfortunately the plural of anecdote is not evidence. You didn’t trust the doctor you originally went to, so go see another and express your concerns. Or at least do some research in real medical databases and journals (try http://pubmed.gov ) instead of relying on the stories of random strangers on the internet for medical advice.

    • Rainne

      You have three options.

      1) go see another allergist and explain the situation – including the mishaps – and ask for another set of tests

      2) take the risk of testing her yourself by feeding her a spoonful of peanut butter to see what happens (and have an EpiPen on hand/be prepared for the rush to the ER)

      3) continue to live your life in abject fear of what ~might happen without taking any steps to find out what the situation actually is.

      I strongly suggest option 1 or 2.

      • bsgthree

        If I were going to give her the food challenge myself, I would go to the ER parking lot and do it there. That way you are close and don’t have to travel while she’s having a reaction. Just in case. Also, I would definitely go see another allergist.

    • Amy

      I am by no means encouraging you to try, because it’s very possible the doctors are right, but it’s also possible that she’s not allergic any more. My brother used to get allergic reactions to bananas and some other foods, but after a few years he could eat them just fine. I would suggest talking to a doctor first though, for sure.

    • Justina

      I’ve had the same thing… After a pistachio incident I was told I was severely allergic to nuts, peanuts, and dogs but not cats. Turns out I’m not at all allergic to peanuts, almonds, or dogs… and I AM allergic to cats. I also have severe reactions with walnuts, pine nuts, and I guess pistachios but I haven’t had any since for 15+ years. I found out that peanuts were okay when I realized that until the allergy test, my favorite candy had been butterfingers and ten years after that diagnoses, I just gave some peanuts a try… very very slowly. Now I eat them all the time.. And just yesterday, I decided to try almonds since I’d never been very careful with them, and… no reaction. I’m eating some right now.

      I would recommend getting a blood test done instead of a prick test (that’s what I did approx. ten years after the initial diagnosis for peanuts… turns out on the spectrum of being allergic or not being allergic, I was right on the cusp… so for safety reasons they tell you to stay clear. That’s when I decided maybe I would just try it). I think you can also go to the hospital and have them feed her a nut there, with a doctor and everything.

    • Alex

      Don’t continue feeding her that. She was told she was allergic, and after continued exposure and very mild reactions, she could out of nowhere have another severe one. It’s convenient but it’s safer to avoid the stuff. You don’t want her to be one of those people that become so sensitised that just being in the room with the allergen can cause a severe reaction. Sorry it’s tough, but I did exactly this. No reaction for a year and then a sudden severe reaction. When I was alone with my 3 kids. I read up on it, don’t do this :(

    • mpeterson

      I have been allergic to peanuts ever
      since I was little. It used to be a lot more severe than it is now. I had an
      allergy test done too about 7 years ago and I definitely was allergic to nuts.
      They suggested different things but I just resorted to Benadryl when I had a
      reaction. Over the years, I’m sure I have been exposed to nuts in my foods and I
      think over time that exposure has actually made my reactions a lot less severe
      than they used to be. From what I’m told, your body eventually starts building
      immunity to it. However, just eating a nut here and there don’t bother me but
      there is a limit my body sets. If I each too many nuts in one day, my limit is
      crossed and I can guarantee a serious reaction will occur. It’s happened more
      than once. The weird part is….I can eat peanut butter. From what I
      understand, the human body is complicated and I have learned to live with than
      statement. I deal with what I know my body can handle and that’s my advice to
      you.

    • Nate

      I’m more confused about the fact that when I was young I was Badley Allergic to Almonds but I haven’t had a reaction for about 9 years….. I’m worried that if I start eating them again, I may start reacting again but I have eaten them in small amounts with no issues……

    • Kevin D.

      I’m an allergist and stumbled on your post. You are right to be skeptical about the high frequency of “severe allergy” diagnoses that get handed out… frequently by non-allergists. The mantra to remember: a positive test does not necessarily make a person allergic. Plus, experts in my field remind us that an oral food challenge is the gold standard for making an accurate food allergy diagnosis diagnosis. That said, some kids are good candidates for a challenge, and others aren’t. The task is to find an allergist worth their salt who does challenges in their clinic.

      You might be interested in this article I wrote about new peanut “component” testing. Relatively promising news in the food allergy world. Unfortunately there is not component testing for tree nuts yet. Probably one day.

      http://www.allassoc.com/a-new-test-for-patients-with-peanut-allergy/

    • Michelle

      I had always have had a nut allergy, especially to peanuts and walnuts. I was told I was allergic to all tree nuts, and I would never outgrow my peanut allergy. Lately, I have been tempting fate, and finding that some tree nuts no longer cause a reaction in me. This is both exciting and yet scary to me! I have found that pecans and almonds don’t cause any reactions. I have also had stuff with hazelnut in it without a problem. I may have even had a dessert with walnuts in it, and I had no reaction. I still do however get reactions to peanuts. Not anywhere near as bad as before, but still bad enough I stay away from them. When I was tested as a child, my reaction to peanuts was so bad it was off the charts. It is so amazing, yet it feels so strange and scary to be eating nuts and nut products, especially since I had such bad reactions as a child.

    • Dman

      Don’t do the challenge at home, duh, they do those things at the allergist office. Small dose at first and build up to bigger doses. Why risk dying ay home, duh. Go to the allergist where it is controlled and monitored.

    • Bonnie

      Did you ever go to another allergist or do a food challenge?