If you have a child in school, chances are good that there is one or more allergy kids in your child's classroom. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) 1 in 13 children suffer from food allergies. So in a classroom of 26 kids you would expect to find two children with food allergies. As food allergies become more prevalent, it's important to understand this dangerous disease and your role in protecting your children's friends.
Allergy facts to know
It is clear that incidence of food allergies is rising in most developed nations, although the exact cause is unclear. Over 15 million Americans live with food allergies. The Center for Disease Control reports that someone goes to the emergency room every 3 minutes because of food allergies. Also, 15 percent of children with food allergies will suffer a reaction at school.
Unlike food intolerance, such as lactose or gluten intolerance, allergies are life threatening. Intolerance leads to gastric discomfort, but allergy reactions lead to itching, hives, difficulty breathing and may even result in anaphylaxis; the shutdown of breathing and circulatory function. More than 200 people die each year as a result of food allergies in the United States alone, and a large percentage of them are children.
There is no known cure for food allergies. Some children outgrow their allergies, but others never do. While there are some promising treatments for allergies being researched, most of this research is experimental and unsuitable for the general population at this time.
Allergies in the classroom
Many schools and school districts are creating allergen-free environments to protect students and limit their liability. However, some parents are pushing back against what they see as undue restrictions on non-allergic students. It's important to remember that food allergies are life threatening, and schools are taking the best interests of all students into account.
Some parents also argue that allergy kids should police themselves and avoid the foods that make them sick. While it's true that allergy kids need to exercise diligence, it's incredibly hard for a young child to avoid allergies on their own. For example, soy, a common food allergen, is lurking as a filler in almost all processed foods. Also, milk is often hiding in packaged goods as whey and casein. It's hard for most adults to decode food labels, let alone a first grader.
Many parents of allergy kids opt to send food to school to avoid potential problems. While this solution works, we need to take care that allergy kids aren't being singled out and bullied because of their disease. It's very obvious when only one child doesn't get a cupcake during a class party that the child is different. According to Olweus, an anti-bullying program, children perceived as different or those with a disability are the most often bullied. It's unfair to single out allergy kids and make them the victims of bullying.
How to help
You can help the allergy kid in your child's circle of friends by supporting school policies and providing allergen-free snacks when you send food to school for birthdays or parties. Ask the allergy kid's parents what foods are safe for their child, and double-check before offering an allergy kid food. No adult wants to make a child sick, so take care before feeding your child's friends. Every adult should also know the signs of anaphylaxis: difficulty breathing, skin rashes and swelling, confusion or vomiting and know how and when to use an epinephrine injector.
You have the power to keep allergy kids safe. Have a positive attitude and work with your child's school to ensure the safety of all students. Set an example of positive parenting and other parents will follow suit.