Peanuts and Anaphylaxis: Background information when reading Mr. Peanut

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Mr. Peanut

by Adam Ross

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2010, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Peanuts and Anaphylaxis

Print Review

When asked in an interview if there was any particular event that inspired Mr. Peanut, Adam Ross responded that: "In 1995, my father told me the strangest, most suspicious story about my cousin, who had severe peanut allergies and was also morbidly obese. According to her husband, he arrived home to find her sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of peanuts in front of her, and upon seeing him she stuffed a handful into her mouth and then went into anaphyla­tic shock. Her last words to him were, 'Call 911.'"  (read the interview)

It may seem strange that eating something as tiny as a peanut could cause a violent allergic reaction strong enough to kill a person, however, Ross does not exaggerate the severity of what is known as anaphylaxis. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something you're allergic to, such as the venom from a bee sting or a peanut. The flood of chemicals released by your immune system during anaphylaxis can cause you to go into shock; your blood pressure drops suddenly and your airways narrow, blocking normal breathing." Simply stated, it is an allergic reaction that affects the whole body and, if left untreated, can cause hives, itchiness, confusion, dizziness, cardiac arrest and even failure of the respiratory system. When mixed with the dark creativity of Adam Ross, the symptoms can be particularly gruesome: "Her skin was discolored – a violet hue of thundercloud, of fresh bruise—and her lips were grossly swollen, pink as intestine and distended as slugs".

Under normal circumstances, when a foreign substance (like a virus or bacterium) is introduced into a healthy body, the immune system produces antibodies that attack that substance. This is usually a good thing. But sometimes after an initial, "sensitizing" exposure to an allergen, the immune system can "overreact to substances that shouldn't cause an allergic reaction. When this occurs, your immune system sets off a chemical chain reaction" leading to even more allergy symptoms. 

In order to suspend the potentially fatal symptoms, a shot of epinephrine can be injected into the person's thigh (as prescribed by doctors). Epinephrine (commonly found in the form of an EpiPen® and better known as adrenaline, the "fight or flight" hormone) is "the principal blood-pressure raising hormone secreted by the adrenal medulla and is used medicinally especially as a heart stimulant." The hormone causes the heart to pump faster, which increases blood pressure, opens airways and in many fortunate cases, saves lives.   

Interesting link: The Children's Hospital Boston answers the much asked questions: Are allergies, especially to peanuts, on the rise? If so, why?

Article by Elena Spagnolie

This article was originally published in July 2010, and has been updated for the April 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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