It may seem a contradiction when doctors claim reactions owed to airborne peanut protein are rare, yet you read multiple online stories of kids reacting to peanut dust. This apparent contradiction is likely a matter of perspective.
If peanut protein is dangerous to yourself or a loved one, the story of even one airborne peanut reaction is threatening. A multitude of stories can provoke panic. This makes sense since the threat of peanut exposure lurks everywhere—and everywhere is not rare.
When scientists or doctors claim that airborne reactions are rare, they seem to be referencing the big picture – a world where most individuals consume peanuts without concern. Although peanut allergies have risen at an alarming rate, the number of people allergic to peanuts and peanut dust remains statistically small.
What Doctors Generally Claim
Doctors and allergists generally say that peanut reactions occur when the protein enters a person’s body directly through eating or licking, or indirectly by transfer from the hands – or other’s lips – to the mouth or eyes.
“…it is important to realize that severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis to peanut generally occur with eating or tasting peanut, and not by touching or smelling it,” writes pediatric allergist Dr. Antony Ham Pong.
“The only exception to the above is if peanut protein itself is in the air that you breathe,” continues Dr. Pong. “A situation in which this [occurs] is unusual but can happen.”
Doctors’ Probable Perspective
When doctors such as Pong say that airborne reactions are rare or unusual they may be speaking from the perspective of impersonal statistics. From one to two percent of the American population is allergic to peanuts, having reactions from mild to severe. The number of people sensitive to peanut dust is still smaller.
This means, statistically, reactions to airborne peanut protein are rare. However, if you or your child react to peanut dust, the many available stories of airborne reactions constitute a scary world that you inhabit, and talk of airborne reactions being unusual is frustrating and meaningless.
Rare Is Different Than Everywhere
Not all doctors acknowledge how little peanut dust is required to trigger highly sensitive individuals. Some physicians claim that a few undisturbed peanut shells in a bowl across the room are not enough to trigger an airborne reaction, though people have experiences to the contrary.
Still, it is unlikely doctors are purposely minimizing the fear and danger of airborne anaphylaxis by calling reactions rare. They may fail to realize the emotional response the word “rare” triggers in those who must constantly look for this danger everywhere they go.