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Food Allergy Awareness

With the increasing number of school aged children having food allergies, I would like to share some information about food allergies as well as ways we can assist these children during the school day.

Food Allergy Facts

  1. Approximately 11 million Americans suffer from food allergy. 
  2. Approximately 2 million school-aged children have food allergies.
  3. All of these individuals are at risk for anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
  4. Eight foods account for 90% of all reactions in the U.S.:  milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, etc), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.
  5. Trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.  This may be from traces left on someone’s hands, cross contamination when preparing food, or from traces left on a table.  Some individuals are so sensitive that they can react to traces being in the air.


Frequently Asked Questions

Whatare the common symptoms of a reaction?
An allergic reaction to food can involve the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and cardiovascular system. 
Symptoms can vary from one person to another, but these are some common symptoms of an allergic reaction:

Skin symptoms

Respiratory symptoms

Gastrointestinal symptoms

Cardiovascular symptoms

hives 

itchy, watery eyes

diarrhea

reduced blood pressure

swelling 

runny nose

cramps

lightheadedness

itchy, red rash  

stuffy nose

nausea

increased heart rate

eczema flare-up 

sneezing

vomiting

shock

 

coughing

 

 

 

itching or swelling of lips, tongue

 

 

 

difficulty swallowing

 

 

 

tightness of chest

 

 

 

wheezing

 

 

 

shortness of breath

 

 

Can an allergic reaction be serious?
Some reactions are mild, and only result in hives or gastrointestinal problems.  Other reactions are very serious, and can be life threatening.  Symptoms can appear immediately or appear over a number of hours after an exposure.  Some reactions can cause anaphylaxis.

What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe allergic reaction which involves several body systems.

Can someone die from anaphylaxis?
Yes, anaphylaxis can be fatal.  That is why it is so important to act quickly to identify and treat an allergic reaction.

What foods should be avoided?
Individuals with food allergies need to avoid all food containing the foods they are allergic to.  This may seem simple but it is quite confusing and time consuming.  Careful reading of all food labels becomes vital for these individuals. 

Home-baked and non-packaged items are particularly difficult because they could have “hidden” ingredients or traces of an allergen due to “trace elements”. 
For those individuals with food allergies to peanuts or tree nuts, they need to avoid foods such as anything containing nuts, including most baked goods and chocolate.  They also need to avoid certain foods which have a higher incidence of containing nuts. This would include foods such as soups, sauces, certain international foods, and sunflower seeds.  As you can see, some of the foods may not be thought of as an “unsafe food”.

What can school parents do to help?

  1. Never take food allergies lightly!
  2. Be aware of children in your child’s classroom who have a food allergy.  Your child’s classroom teacher, with permission from the allergic child’s parent, will notify parents if there is a child in a classroom with a food allergy. 
  3. Ask your child’s teacher for guidelines on safe birthday treats as well as safe foods when planning parties or any offered food items during the school day.  This includes special celebrations that include food.
  4. Teach your children about food allergies and the seriousness of potential allergic reactions.  Teach them to not share food with their food-allergic friends.

What can school children do to help?

  1. Never take food allergies lightly!
  2. Don’t share food items with food-allergic friends.
  3. Wash hands after eating an item which is a known allergen to their classmate.
  4. Ask what their friends are allergic to and help them avoid it.
  5. If an allergic schoolmate becomes ill, get help immediately!

For further information about food allergies, please feel free to contact me at  419 882-6670.  You may also want to do further research by visiting The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network at www.foodallergy.org.

Therese Hoehn, R.N., B.S.N., P.C.N.
School Nurse