The Impact Of Peanut Allergies Case Study
Peanut allergies are more than the latest medical phenomenon. They have gained their fair share of the spotlight in recent years. When peanut allergies first emerged in medical circles, there was little known as to its cause or origination. To say that peanut allergies have grown in popularity might be a misnomer, however, this medical mystery has been commonly referred to as an epidemic. As more awareness has been drawn to it and evolving cases have emerged, it is no surprise that a sense of heightened panic has been created. In this paper the causes of peanut allergies as well as its effects on society will be explored and solutions will be discussed.
In the late 1970’s, peanut allergies were often “mostly part of a broader discussion of food anaphylaxis” (Waggoner, 2013). They were not seen as the real threat that they would later become. Rather, they were viewed “as a source of low-grade, common illness” (Waggoner, 2013). It would not be until a decade later in the 1980’s that peanut allergies were considered to be the primary cause of anaphylactic death in the United States.
Since peanut allergies have appeared on the radar of the medical community, “scientists continue to explore causative factors for development” (Pansare & Kamat, 2010). There have been no definitive conclusions agreed upon. Contributing factors such as consumption of peanuts, incorporation within foods, diets of pregnant and nursing mothers and infants, and antacids, to name a few, have an impact. It was initially thought and experimented that pregnant mothers needed to cut food allergens to prevent the development of immunoglobulin. However, studies have shown this approach is ineffective and has no bearing on children developing peanut allergies.
Research has shown that one risk factor for development of peanut allergies is household peanut consumption. This can also occur “if environmental exposure to peanut also occurs through cutaneous contact with family members” (Fox, Sasieni, du Toit, Syed, & Lack, 2009). It is interesting to note that there are different risks of peanut allergies depending upon the types of peanut sources they are derived from. The two most significant contributors creating the highest risk for peanut allergies are peanuts and peanut butter. There has been much debate as to whether or not infants should be introduced to peanuts within the first year of life. Studies show that “total weekly household peanut consumption during the first year of life is significantly higher for infants” (Fox, et al, 2009).
Peanut allergies are typically detected immediately following the ingestion of peanuts or a food product with peanut protein. Reactions can range from “shock, difficulty in breathing, or death without an injection of epinephrine, or adrenaline” (Waggoner, 2013). As more research has been conducted, it has been determined that peanut allergies are the most dangerous of all food allergies. There is no specific cure for peanut allergies. The most common treatment is “vigilant avoidance of peanut-containing foods” (Pansare & Kamat, 2010). Patients are also educated on how to recognize and treat reactions when they occur. There have been two therapies that have been used experimentally and have been met with some success. These are “oral peanut immunotherapy and Chinese herbal medicine” (Pansare & Kamat, 2010).
Another facet to the peanut allergy anomaly is society’s reaction to it. As this has gained notoriety in the public eye, it has been presented as an emergent epidemic of sorts. In truth, peanut allergies have always existed. It was not until the media and the medical community drew attention to it that it took on a life of its own. As a result, it has become bigger in some cases than “non-communicable chronic diseases such as autism, obesity, or breast cancer” (Waggoner, 2013). As awareness has increased, so has the speculation that peanut allergies were on the rise. The media has been instrumental in successfully inciting fear in society by providing information as to the causes and outcomes of how peanut allergies are developed. Perhaps wide-spread panic is a bit of a stretch, however, society has become keenly astute to the dangers and are taking necessary measures to prevent episodes.
With increased knowledge in the study of peanut allergies, came an overall social awareness that stretched beyond the household to every facet of society. In 2005, the media reported that a “Canadian teenager had died after kissing her boyfriend who had just consumed a peanut butter snack” (Waggoner, 2013). Autopsy results showed no correlation between the teenager’s peanut allergy and her kissing her boyfriend. The story was termed the “kiss of death” (Waggoner, 2013) and got the attention of viewers and other media outlets everywhere, thus causing increased panic and fear.
The onslaught of this purported epidemic did not stop there. Restaurants suddenly became cognizant of what foods they served and what foods could possibly contain peanuts. Many restaurants included disclaimers on their menus to alert patrons of items that contain peanuts and peanut oil. Schools were faced with the burden of responsibility to know students’ medical histories; particularly those with peanut allergies and ensuring students have Epipens on hand in the event of an attack. Some schools even went so far as removing favorite menu items such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other peanut products. Even the peanut industry chimed in with their own efforts at educating the public on “the risk posed by the peanut allergy epidemic” (Waggoner, 2013). Before long what was being considered an epidemic had socially reached a full-blown state.
With all the hype surrounding peanut allergies, for some, it can be quite deceiving to think someone with a peanut allergy can die from eating peanut butter or other food items laced with peanuts. These items are so common that it can be almost daunting to think something seemingly so harmless can be so harmful. Without a doubt the awareness that has been raised to educate and alert the public about peanut allergies is both needed and necessary. The strides in research and many studies consistently show the dangers associated with consumption of food items that contain peanuts in various forms for those susceptible to an allergic reaction. Peanut allergies are no longer resigned to being a medical issue, but one that has become a public problem across the board. The public aspect of this issue has created a potential stigma for those who suffer with peanut allergies. This has successfully worked to heighten the fear and trepidation of society even more so. As this continues to pervade society as an accepted norm, one should ponder how big of an issue this would have become had it not been escalated and built on the premise of instilled fear. Like anything else of this nature, peanut allergies are to be taken seriously, but are only as seriously as realistically needs to be.
Fox, A. T., Sasieni, P., du Toit, G., Syed, H., & Lack, G. (2009). Household peanut consumption as a risk factor for the development of peanut allergy. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, 123(2), 417-423. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/science/article/pii/S0091674908024317
Pansare, M., & Kamat, D. (2010). Peanut allergy. Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 22(5), 642-646. DOI: 10.1097/MOP.0b013e32833d95cb
Waggoner M. R. (2013). Parsing the peanut panic: The social life of a contested food allergy epidemic. Social Science and Medicine, 90(1), 49-55. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.04.031
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