There is a myth that pine nut belongs to the family of tree nuts. Pine nuts are edible seeds derived from pine trees. These seeds are considered as one of the potential allergens of all time. Pine nut allergies are quite similar to tree nut allergies and are quite common in both adults and children.
What is pine nut allergy?
Pine nut allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction to pine nuts or pine kernels. In other words, it is an outcome of the malfunctioning of the immune system or an abnormal response of the immune system. Pine nut allergies can be mild, moderate or severe varying from person to person.
Causes of pine nut allergy
The proteins found in pine nuts act as allergens. Studies are going on to figure out the major allergen in pine nuts due to which several components have been isolated which were found to be allergenic in different people and such components are being evaluated. The immune system fails to recognize the proteins as harmless and renders them as harmful pathogens as a result of which it triggers the production of antibodies. During the next attack, the antibodies engulf the pathogens and signal the immune system to trigger the production of histamines and other chemicals that initiate allergic response in the body.
Symptoms of pine nut allergy
Pine nut allergy symptoms vary from mild to severe. It is usually known for causing fatal anaphylaxis reactions. The mild symptoms include the following:
- Itchy watery eyes
- Runny nose or nasal congestion
- Hives or skin rashes
- Swelling of lips, tongue, throat and nose
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
Signs of acute allergic reaction with pine nut
Anaphylaxis symptoms include the ones listed above and some additional symptoms, which are mentioned below:
- Itchy throat
- A feeling of tightness in the chest
- Troubled breathing
- Constriction of airway
- Abdominal discomfort
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
- Abrupt drop in blood pressure
- Heart failure
Diagnosis and testing of pine nut allergy
It is important to visit an allergist at the earliest when there is any doubt regarding the allergy. Allergists usually note down the details of family history and persisting symptoms and then suggest some tests, which can confirm if the individual is actually allergic to pine nuts.
The most common method of diagnosis is skin prick test. In this test, a small portion of the skin is pricked with the help of a needle and a small amount of suspected allergen extract (i.e. pine nut protein) is incorporated in the pricked portion of the skin. The allergist waits until there is the emergence of any red bumps in the pricked area. Redness signifies that the patient is allergic to pine nuts.
Sometimes, blood test is used as a diagnosis method for confirming the presence of pine nut allergy. In this test, the blood is checked for the presence of immunoglobulin E antibodies. If these antibodies are present in more number, it signifies that the patient is allergic.
The third form of diagnosis method is performed in rare cases. A small amount of the allergy source is administered to the suspected patient under the observation of allergist to check for the reaction. There is always a risk for anaphylaxis to occur, so this diagnosis method should not be tried at home and should always be performed under expert supervision.
The factors that increase the risk of developing allergic reactions to pine nuts are explained below:
Even if an individual is not allergic to pine nuts, due to great chances of cross-reactivity between pine nuts and peanuts and between pine nuts and pine pollen.
People living in the Mediterranean region and Europe are at greater risk of developing allergic reactions to pine nut due to its frequent use in diets.
Younger siblings of children suffering from pine nut allergy are at considerable risk of developing allergy to pine nuts.
Eczema or hay fever
Prevalence of eczema and hay fever heightens the risk of having pine nut allergy.
If a person was allergic to pine nuts in the past, there is likeliness for the allergy to revive at a later point of time.
Pine nut allergies can pose great complications in life. They are well known as causing factor of severe, life-threatening anaphylaxis reactions. In fact, anaphylaxis reactions are quite common in case of pine nut allergy.
Treatment of pine nut allergy
Elimination diet is the first line of treatment to prevent the occurrence of pine nut allergy. Whenever it is confirmed in the diagnosis test that an individual is allergic to pine nuts, the first recommendation coming from the allergist’s side is a strict regimented diet devoid of pine nuts. Sometimes, as a preventive measure, tree nuts and peanuts are also asked to be avoided due to high chances of cross-reactivity.
Whenever the symptoms of pine nut allergy develop, anti-histamine medications are administered to the patient for providing temporary relief. Anti-histamines are available both as prescribed and over-the-counter drugs.
Anaphylaxis symptoms can only be treated with the help of adrenaline (epinephrine) injections. Those who are prone to anaphylaxis attacks are always suggested to carry epinephrine auto-injectors all the time along with them. After the initial symptoms of anaphylaxis reactions are managed, a trip to the emergency medical room is mandatory for proper treatment and complete cure.
Diet and caution
Diet certainly has a great role to play in food allergy management. The same holds true in case of pine nut allergies. While cooking food at home, pine nuts can be easily avoided. The foodstuffs that contain pine nuts as hidden ingredients should be avoided besides raw pine nuts. The situation is different while dining out at some restaurant because the foodstuff one is allergic to can be an essential ingredient in the dish that ordered. Therefore, it is wise to ask questions regarding the preparation to be on the safer side. Likewise, food labels should be inevitably read while purchasing food stuffs so that the product one is buying is devoid of the allergen.