Smell alone cannot result in a systemic reaction. However, a reaction can occur if airborne peanut proteins are inhaled. Peanut protein must enter the body for a systemic reaction to occur. The mouth is the usual route, but in rare cases the point of entry is the nose, eyes (peanut protein on the fingers is rubbed on eyes or inside nose) or respiratory tract (inhaled peanut protein). When peanuts are cooked or shelled, peanut proteins may be aerosolized. This could pose a risk, if there are a lot of peanuts in a poorly ventilated room. Peanut snacks being served on an airplane and restaurants where peanuts are available for everyone to eat are good examples. One person shelling a few peanuts in a large, ventilated room or outside would not aerosolize enough peanut protein to be a problem.
Even though the smell of peanuts will not result in an allergic reaction, it can understandably result in an anxiety attack. These symptoms may be difficult to distinguish from a true systemic reaction. An epinephrine auto-injector should be used, if there is any possibility of a reaction.
Posted in: Winter2014-Q&A