Q: My partner ate just one Brazil nut, and within minutes his tongue swelled to five times its thickness and doubled its width. He could barely talk. He took an antihistamine (chlorpheniramine), and we called the doctor. The doctor said that if the reaction worsened, he should go to the hospital. He has no allergies to anything else and never knew he was allergic to Brazil nuts.
A: Your partner will need to avoid Brazil nuts in the future. Allergic reactions to these nuts are not uncommon, and they can be life-threatening. Some people experience a reaction that requires emergency medical treatment with epinephrine.
The traditional holiday nut bowl may lead to unexpected exposures. Here is a report from another reader: “For years at Christmas, my eyes would get irritated and watery. One holiday season, I was at my friend’s house, and his children needed some nuts cracked. I picked up a Brazil nut and cracked it.
“Within seconds, my eyes started watering, so I rubbed them with my fingers. Within one minute, my whole face had swollen up. I looked like Rocky (at the end of ‘Rocky’ part 1). There is always an open bowl of nuts somewhere at Christmastime, but now I avoid them.”
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist, and Teresa Graedon is an expert in medical anthropology and nutrition. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. E-mail them via their Web site: www.peoples pharmacy.com. They can be reached at peoplespharmacy @gmail.com.