One night during the month we were in Wisconsin, I began to have a weird physical sensation, like someone was pressing a finger down on my throat where my neck meets my breastbone. Every time I swallowed, I met resistance in that spot. Drinking water didn’t diminish the sensation, so I began to wonder if it was a very light throat-tightening/closing like you can get with an allergic reaction. Except that as far as I’m aware, I don’t have any allergies that cause this kind of throat-tightening, and I hadn’t been exposed to anything unusual. But this is me, and I cataloged all the things that I’d eaten that day, particular at dinner (since that’s when the sensation started). It was all very normal-for-me stuff: rice, chicken, soy sauce, vinegar, chopped peanuts, stir-fried veggies, oil. The only thing in that list that isn’t par for the course for me was soy sauce, just because I’m not the biggest fan. But I eat a lot of other things that have soy. Conclusion: It couldn’t have been the food, and was probably just a fluke sensation anyway.
Fast forward to August 9th. I made a protein shake that day, experimenting with veggies. I’d been told that raw broccoli has no taste in smoothies, but I wasn’t sure I believed that (especially with my super-taster gene). (Side note: It was a lie – broccoli most definitely has a strong taste in smoothies.) My smoothie consisted of protein powder, spinach, broccoli, various frozen fruits, water, and a spoonful of peanut butter. Peanut butter has long been my go-to for masking flavors. The protein powder I currently use has a mild, pleasant taste, but many protein powders have terrible aftertastes, and peanut butter is a common masker for those aftertastes. I’d hoped that the pb could also mask the taste of broccoli if it indeed had a taste. End result: I drank about 2/3rds of the smoothie before I couldn’t handle the overwhelming broccoli flavor. Failed experiment. Except.
The only ingredient in common between the two meals preceding the Finger was peanuts. I was skeptical. While I’m not a huge peanut fan, it makes up a fairly frequent part of my diet. I grew up on pb&j sandwiches. I often eat peanut butter Puffins for breakfast. My Kind grain bars are peanut butter chocolate chunk, and most of my Go Macro protein bars have pb in them. I use natural pb on bananas and apples, and periodically spread it on bagels. I enjoy meals like mafé and peanut-crusted chicken, and as I said, pb was a main ingredient in my protein shakes until discovering my current whey powder 1.5 years ago. You’d think that if I had a problem with peanuts, I’d know by now. Peanut allergies are quite well known, and I’ve never had an anaphylactic reaction of any kind.
But there was that finger on my throat, and peanuts were the only common ingredient between the two meals. I started looking into the possibility of peanut allergy, just in case, and I was surprised by what I found. Things I hadn’t known, sourced from Mayo and NIH and other health organizations and hospitals:
- most peanut allergies are mild, not the severe anaphylactic kind
- mild peanut allergies usually present as skin problems – eczema and hives
- one of the best predictors of someone having a peanut allergy is early onset eczema (as in, eczema in infancy)
I was astonished. Yeah, I first had eczema when I was only a couple months old, and it has plagued me throughout my life. I have to keep heavy steroid creams like Clobetasol around to use on fingers, palms, arms, back, toes, feet, and thighs. Non-steroidal and light-steroid eczema treatments don’t cut it. And I’ve had off-and-on hives ever since I was 12.
There has only ever been one period in my life when I didn’t have any exposure to peanuts. Back in Sept/Oct 2014, I did that Whole30 program, and all legumes including peanuts were on the no-no list. When I got off Whole30 and began reintroducing foods, I didn’t do a good job of going slowly, and frankly, never suspected peanuts as being a problem because of my long exposure to them with no anaphylactic symptoms. Within a few days of eating a few off-plan foods, I’d broken out in hives and my fingers were swollen and itchy with eczema. I didn’t know what caused it, but 100% didn’t even consider the possibility of peanuts. Ironically, the few times I tried to follow a mostly-paleo/Whole30 plan over the few years after this, one of the few exceptions I made was to allow natural, unsweetened peanut butter. I’m not a fan of almond butter, and pecan butter (which I used the first time) is extremely expensive and hard to find. I never had the same kind of success with those attempts as I did the first round of W30.
Starting August 10th, I eliminated peanuts from my diet. It didn’t take much – no pb Puffins, no natural pb, no Kind or Go Macro bars with pb, no meals that involved peanuts. On the 9th, my fingers and thigh were both covered in flared eczema. By the 13th, with no use of my steroid cream, all the eczema was under control. I could feel where it sat on the skin, but it wasn’t painful, itchy, red, or swollen. On several days, a couple tiny spots on my fingers flared up – dry and mildly itchy, but not red/painful/swollen – making me wonder if something I ate had trace amounts of peanuts in it, or if all this is coincidence and peanuts aren’t actually the cause of the skin issues. Each time, the mild flare would disappear quickly without any medication. Today, after nine days avoiding peanuts, my fingers are almost clear and haven’t had any major itching in all that time.
Now here is something truly bizarre and potentially wonderful: On Monday, we had a lunch mishap that turned into the need to grab fast food. Jason grabbed a fish sandwich for me, but he forgot to ask them not to use tartar sauce. Until a few years ago, I loved tartar sauce, but since my anosmia got my tastes all distorted in 2018, I haven’t been able to eat anything with onion in it, as it all tastes like rotten onions. In fact, a month ago when we were in WI, my MIL bought McDonald’s for lunch one day, and got me a fish sandwich there. She didn’t know about the tartar sauce, and I had to scrape it off because it smelled like death. On Monday, the tartar sauce didn’t smell like death. It smelled almost normal, and tasted almost normal, too. !!! I haven’t had a chance to fully test whether the anosmia is gone as we do not keep onions in the house any longer, but I did find a fajita spice mix in our spice cabinet with onion powder as one of the main ingredients. Several deep sniffs of the stuff had no rotten smell at all. I will be astonished if I discover that for almost three full years I’ve had anosmia/dysosmia due to a mild peanut allergy. Holy wow.
There are a few more trends I’ve noticed, but I’m as of yet unsure they’re related, so I’ll keep mum about them for now. I plan to keep peanuts out of my diet for at least a month or so, perhaps longer, to really see the longterm results. I know that at some point I should reintroduce them and check the results from that, but frankly, I’m not looking forward to a potential hive-and-eczema outbreak, so I might just skip that portion and avoid peanuts from now on if it turns out that my skin issues stay cleared up!!