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Food allergies: More than an inconvenience

Jan 22, 2018 12:01PM

By Judy M. Miller

Growing up, I was not aware of any friend that was allergic to food. However, upon becoming a parent I quickly became aware of a number of children with food allergies, several so acute that I now routinely ask about food allergies prior to having any child in my care.

Food allergies in children have doubled in the past decade. The website www.foodallergy.org states that one in every 13 children under the age of 18 has a food allergy, and among preschoolers, the incidence is one in 10.  More than one-third of children with food allergies are allergic to multiple foods.  These numbers are alarming.

During a recent interview on NPR, Dr. Kari Nadeau, a scientist at the forefront of food allergy research, shared that it is suspected that the reason food allergies has exploded is multifactorial.  In other words, there is no single reason or simple answer. She is conducting clinical trials on desensitizing children who have multiple food allergies.  The results look promising.

The most common food allergens are tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.  These eight food sources account for 90% of food allergies.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labeling on trace amounts (trace contaminants) up to 200 milligrams.  200 milligrams does not sound like a lot.  However, it is roughly the equivalent of a peanut. But a parent of a child with a severe food allergy will tell you otherwise. 200 milligrams can throw a child into a severe reaction, anaphylactic shock or worse.  These trace amounts can kill.

Sarah, mom to a middle school aged-son who was diagnosed with a severe milk allergy when being weaned from breastfeeding at one year-old, lives with this knowledge. She has had to learn how to manage her son's food allergies.  She has done a remarkable job, effectively advocating for her son and other children who have food allergies-educating her son, faculty and staff, students, and parents of students about the basics of food allergies, and how to manage them.

One-third of kids with food allergies are bullied.  Sarah's son is not. Her openness has encouraged other parents of kids with food allergies to join in.  Together they have educated adults and children on how critical reactions to food can be, ranging from itchy throats and skin reactions to stomachaches, burning tongues and signs of anaphylaxis.  They have created a clear understanding of food allergy management and garnered strong support for kids with food allergies within the school population. My son is a close friend of her son and is hyper-vigilant and respectful about his friend's dietary restrictions. He is aware of what his friend cannot have, and what is safe.  He knows this because he has been taught.

Please teach your child about the seriousness and life-threatening truths about food allergies.  If you do not know, ask a parent who has a child with food allergies. What is inconvenient for you--not having that food allergen in their presence or wiping your counters down before they visit your home--can be life-threatening to another.

Learn More: Signs of Anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction.  It can occur suddenly and escalate quickly, usually within minutes of a person eating. Mild symptoms can be a runny nose, a funny feeling, or a sudden rash, but these can swiftly evolve to more serious issues, such as:
• Difficulty breathing
• Swelling, hives or swollen lips
• Hoarseness
• Constriction of the throat
• Nausea and vomiting
• Abdominal pain and cramping
• Diarrhea
• Low blood pressure
• Dizziness
• Fainting
• Rapid heartbeat
• Cardiac arrest


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