A common question that parents with children that have peanut allergies ask us is if an allergic reaction will occur if their child sits next to someone snacking on a peanut butter sandwich or even peanuts themselves. The fear these parents have is the smell of peanuts or peanut butter might carry the allergen.

A recent study conducted at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha suggests that odor alone is not a problem for those with peanut allergies, but offers a caution for parents, regardless. The study had participants smelling peanuts, and no one suffered a reaction.

“That smell was disguised by adding tuna fish and mint to the peanut itself, so it could not be smelled as peanuts. They allowed some children to be tested with a dish that had that mixture and those kids did not have reactions,” Doctor Michael Huckabee, who led the research, explains.

“Studies have shown that most individuals, in fact 91-percent of individuals, actually reported that it was ingestion of the peanut butter that would create a reaction,” Huckabee says. “So, with that information, we feel somewhat reassured that the odor is not the problem, it’s the direct contact – by touching or ingesting – and that’s what causes the more severe reactions.”

Kids sitting next to someone eating a peanut butter sandwich in the lunch room should be safe, as long as they don’t ingest the peanut butter or come in contact with it by touch. The much bigger problem is airborne particles, such as dust from a bag of peanuts.

“Even a pinch of peanuts, whether that be dust or powder, if it is airborne and breathed in, that would cause the same reaction as if it were ingested,” Huckabee says.

The safest bet is to always carry an EpiPen if you have a severe allergic reaction to peanuts.

Ramie Tritt, M.D., President, Atlanta ENT