August 29, 2011
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A mom's point of view
It is hard enough dropping a child off for school, especially during the first few days in September...but add in a life-threatening food allergy and it becomes frightening. Leaving my soon-to-be 4 year old, will be something I am never 100% comfortable with...his peanut allergy is so severe that accidentally ingesting even 1/100th of a single peanut will send his body into anaphylactic shock and land him in the hospital.
Food allergies DO NOT run in our family, but it is now second nature for us. We have been dealing with his allergy for over 2 years and since his reaction he has never eaten anything without the label being triple checked first. I do my best to help everyone around him understand how to keep him safe; preparing caregivers, teachers, friends and other family members is key.
I am writing this for all of the parents that are not familiar with the severity of food allergies, I was one of them not so long ago. After talking with many people about my son's allergy, most just assume if it doesn't directly contain peanuts (or which ever allergen the child is allergic to) then it is a safe food for them to have...boy I wish it was that easy!
Children that are allergic to a certain food can not consume ANYTHING that says: "processed an a plant with (insert allergen)" or "may contain (insert allergen)". They can not eat in just any restaurant, consume a baked good from a bakery, coffee shop or even have the free cookie offered in the local supermarket...most of these items probably do not contain peanuts, but the risk of cross-contamination is very high.
Some common UNSAFE foods for a peanut allergy are: most pretzels, chocolate, m&m's, sprinkles/jimmies, cereal bars, animal crackers, cookies, gummy bears/worms, donuts, gourmet or "kettle" fried potato chips, most generic brands and ANY without a label!
When sending baked goods/food into school this year, please think of these children. If you have a minute, check with your child's teacher and ask if there are any children in class with food allergies. The teacher might be able to recommend some items that are safe for the entire class. I personally try to keep a "safe item" in my son's preschool class at all times, but it is so hard to explain to a child why they can't have what their classmates are eating.
We are lucky to have a few allergy friendly bakeries in the area, but they can get pricey. Just recently I noticed some baked goods (specifically cupcakes and cookies) at Whole Foods, Giant and Walmart are labeled "nut free", those two words make me a VERY happy mommy!
One last note: I NEVER ask people to make exceptions for my son, it is my responsibility to make sure he is in a safe environment...but there is nothing more heartwarming then someone going out of their way to include him and make sure he doesn't feel left out...whether it be at a birthday party, a friends house or at school, that kindness will not go unnoticed. We are lucky to have so many people around us that do just that and more!
Even though peanuts are what I am most familiar with, this information can be used for any allergen. If you would like to add any information, a personal story or advice please comment below or contact me ([email protected]). It would be greatly appreciated if you could share this article with family, friends and teachers on behalf of all children with allergies.
Food Allergy Facts and Statistics from the FAAN website:
- Food allergy is a growing public health concern in the U.S.
- Though reasons for this are poorly understood, the prevalence of food allergies and associated anaphylaxis appears to be on the rise.
- The incidence of peanut and tree nut allergy among children appears to have tripled between 1997 and 2008.
- Research suggests that food-related anaphylaxis might be underdiagnosed.
- An increasing number of school students have diagnosed life-threatening allergies.
- A 2007 study has shown that milk allergy may persist longer in life than previously thought. Of 800 children with milk allergy, only 19% had outgrown their allergy by age 4, and only 79% had outgrown it by age 16.
- As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies, including approximately 6 million children.
- The CDC reported that food allergies result in over 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children.
- Eight foods account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions in the U.S.: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.
- There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of food allergens and early recognition and management of allergic reactions to food are important measures to prevent serious health consequences.
- Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.
- Most people who’ve had an allergic reaction to something they ate thought that it was safe.
- Food allergies are life-altering for everyone involved and require constant vigilance.
- Early administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) is crucial to successfully treating anaphylactic reactions. Epinephrine is available by prescription in a self-injectable device (EpiPen® or Twinject®).
Food Allergy Q&A from the FAAN website:
Q. What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction to food?
A. An allergic reaction to food may begin with a tingling sensation, itching, or a metallic taste in the mouth. Other symptoms can include hives, a sensation of warmth, wheezing or other difficulty breathing, coughing, swelling of the mouth and throat area, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. These symptoms may begin anywhere from several minutes to two hours after eating an offending food, but life-threatening reactions may get worse over a period of several hours.
Q. What is anaphylaxis?
A. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death. It can be caused not only by food, but also by such things as bee stings, drugs, and latex. In the U.S., food allergy is the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting and the CDC reported that food allergies result in over 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children. The symptoms of anaphylaxis can include any of those associated with an allergic reaction to food. Studies have shown that early administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) is crucial to successfully treating anaphylactic reactions. Epinephrine is available by prescription in a self-injectable device (EpiPen® or Twinject®).
Q. How much of a food allergen does it take to cause a reaction?
A. Even trace amounts can cause a reaction in someone who is allergic. The allergen doesn’t even have to be ingested to cause a reaction; skin contact or inhalation of protein (e.g., steam from cooking an allergen) can sometimes trigger it.
Q. What are the most common food allergens?
A. The following eight foods are responsible for 90% of all food-allergic reactions in the U.S.: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, walnuts), shellfish (e.g., shrimp, crab, lobster), and fish (e.g., tuna, salmon, catfish).
Q. Can the severity of a person’s allergic reactions to food be predicted from his or her previous reactions?
A. No. Someone whose reactions have been mild in the past may suddenly start reacting more severely. For example, a FAAN review of food allergy fatalities found that most of the people had never had a severe allergic reaction until the one that caused their death. Thus, all food allergies must be taken seriously.
Q. How does a child’s food allergy affect the family or caretakers?
A. Food allergies are often life-altering. In most cases, the entire family will avoid the same foods that the person with an allergy must avoid. The allergy’s impact therefore extends well beyond the number of patients, affecting three to four times as many people.
FAAN’s mission is to raise public awareness, to provide advocacy and education, and to advance research on behalf of all those affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis.
For more information about food allergies, visit FAAN’s website at www.foodallergy.org.
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