Food Allergies: How Dangerous Are Peanuts on Planes? week we’re talking about the federal government banning peanuts on planes. Today, I want to respond to a question asked yesterday by a commenter on It really gets to the heart of the matter. Here’s the question:
“Is there any evidence that simply being present where there is an allergen (such as near peanuts on airplanes) puts the allergic person at risk? Or is the issue that they can’t eat peanuts so they’re being deprived of a snack? What’s the data?”

In other words, just how dangerous are peanuts to passengers who are allergic to this legume? Do they have to be eaten to trigger a reaction? I went to the Mayo Clinic for answers. According to Mayo, exposure to peanuts occurs in three ways: direct contact, cross-contact, and inhalation. Direct contact occurs when you eat peanuts, or in some cases, have skin contact with peanuts. Cross-contact occurs when a food product contains traces of peanuts. Inhalation is breathing “dust or aerosols containing peanuts, such as that of peanut flour or peanut oil cooking spray.”

Here are more specifics about inhalation on airplanes, from another medical source. One mechanism is “the release of peanut particles under pressure, such as occurs with the simultaneous opening of hundreds of peanut snacks in a pressurized airplane cabin. The presence of peanut protein in the filters of commercial airliners was documented in a study from the Mayo Clinic in 1996, confirming the possibility of airborne exposure.”

Reactions to exposure usually occur within a few minutes, according to Mayo. Symptoms can be mild (hives, itching in or around the mouth and throat), moderate (vomiting, shortness of breath), or severe – anaphylaxis. This may include constriction of airways, swelling in the throat, difficulty breathing, a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, dizziness, or loss of consciousness.

“Peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of anaphylaxis,” says Mayo. This is “a medical emergency that requires treatment with an epinephrine (adrenaline) injector (EpiPen, EpiPen Jr or Twinject) and a trip to the emergency room. “ And there’s the rub. No emergency rooms on airplanes.

There are few reports of severe allergic reactions to peanuts on planes. And I think I know why. A neighbor has a son with high sensitivity to peanuts. Inhalation of peanut particles sends him to the emergency room. So, they never fly anywhere. When they travel, they go in a family van and eat food that they prepare themselves.

So, there are some of the facts about peanuts on planes. Do these facts convince you to support restrictions on serving peanuts? Or, do you say, nuts to that?

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(Originally posted in

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