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A Nutty Reason for Itchy Lips

June 10, 2002|From Reuters

BOSTON — You must remember this: A kiss is still a kiss--but it can send you to the hospital if you're allergic to nuts.

According to a study in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, an unexpectedly large number of people with nut allergies became itchy when kissed by someone who had eaten nuts up to six hours before the embrace.

In one of the cases involving a kiss on the cheek to a 3-year-old boy, the reaction was severe enough to require a trip to the emergency room.

Doctors have known for years that being bussed by someone who has eaten the wrong food can cause a problem in sensitive individuals.

But when Lori Haapanen and Drs. Rosemary Hallett and Suzanne Teuber analyzed their database of 379 patients with an allergy to nuts and seeds, they found 20 who said they had had a reaction after a kiss--a number they found surprisingly high.

And because the researchers never asked about kissing in their questionnaire--in each case, the patients themselves raised the issue as a source of an allergic reaction--the actual number of patients for whom a kiss can lead to some unpleasant symptoms is probably much higher.

"The fact that 5.3% of our subjects volunteered this type of personal information suggests that a higher percentage of patients with severe food allergies are at risk," they said.

In most of the 17 cases they investigated closely, the allergic reaction usually arose within a minute and was mild, usually characterized by itching and swelling in the area kissed. However, four patients developed wheezing.

Seven of the 17 said they had experienced allergic reactions to a nut-laden kiss more than once. Fourteen had been kissed on the lips. The 3-year-old boy was merely pecked on the cheek by his mother.

"Four people had reactions even after their partner had brushed his or her teeth," the researchers said.

Because a third of subjects had reactions while dating, teenagers and young adults in particular need to be informed about exposure to allergens, and patients of dating age who have severe food allergies may need extra encouragement to tell friends about it, the authors said.

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