You hear a lot about peanut allergies, but is it possible to also be allergic to walnuts? Walnuts are in the same protein family as other tree nuts and they can create a serious allergic response.

Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system mis-identifies a food’s proteins as harmful. The body then reacts by trying to fight off the presumed harmful proteins. This histamine release causes the allergy symptoms you are likely familiar with: runny nose, swelling, hives and occasionally much worse.

Tree nuts

Walnuts are a type of tree nut. Tree nuts include cashews, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. Tree nuts are included in the big eight allergy offenders which compromise 90% of all allergy attacks. While many people outgrow their food allergies, tree nuts tend to be lifelong. Tree nut (and peanut) allergies can be severe and life threatening.

Symptoms

Some symptoms of a walnut allergy include itching or swelling of the mouth, tongue or lips; skin reactions like eczema, hives, swelling and redness of the extremities or face; gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea; respiratory symptoms like runny nose, stuffy nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, difficulty breathing; and cardiovascular symptoms including a drop in blood pressure, lightheadedness and fainting. Anaphylaxis is the most extreme response and is life threatening. This includes vomiting, weak or rapid pulse, difficulty breathing confusion and loss of consciousness. It all happens very quickly after exposure to the walnut allergen so immediate medical response is key. The condition can be fatal.

Sensitivity will vary by person, be vigilant

Walnut allergies can be triggered by eating the nut or by touching something with walnut residue on it. Your reaction will depend on the sensitivity of your allergy. Everyone is different. If you are severely allergic, be sure to look for warnings on food labels that the food has been processed in a plant that handles tree nuts. It most likely won’t say “walnuts” so looking for the broader group of tree nuts is important to identifying the trigger for your allergy. The pecan has a very similar protein to the walnut so many people with walnut allergy also stay away from pecans.

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