Monday, October 26, 2009

Bench Talk: Food Allergies - On the Increase?

Are food allergies on the increase? When I was a kid in school I was not aware of any kids around me having life threatening food allergies. Now, our children are hyper-aware of the dangers of food allergies. Also, these days we all know at least two children or adults with life threatening food allergies.

(Carolin) Cathy comes up with a subject I happen to know intimately. I have had food allergies ever since I can remember but fortunately they were never life threatening. My younger child, (little one) happened to get my allergy gene but hers are life threatening :( , she has an anaphalactic reaction to Shellfish.
(Cathy) My sister has an allergy to peanuts. I actually think it's to all nuts. It wasn't as severe when she was younger, however, as she gets older the severity with the allergy is also increasing. Where before she could get away with the, 'may contain nuts', she now has to stay away from them. She actually has to carry two epi-pens with her. She also wears the medic-alert bracelet.

What has happened in the last few decades to cause this increase?

Because we live with allergies, I have read many magazine, books, and Internet articles on the apparent rise in life threatening allergies. Some researchers feel it is because we are a generation of overt cleanliness. We need to have whiter then white, sparkling floors, not a speck of dust anywhere. With our obsession (back to media influence, refer to previous posts) with cleanliness we have not allowed our children to build up immunities to normal life germs and bacterias. Other articles blame the rise on vaccinations, and again not allowing our children to fight off disease. More have said that it is the result of all the processed foods we eat and the chemical reliant farms that grow the food we eat. I don't really know anymore but it can be a drag! (Sunshine) Is it possible that there were many allergies long ago but they were unrecognized and not treated quickly enough to save lives. Were there epi-pens being carried around when our parents were little? We are so lucky that modern medicine has given these people with allergies a short term solution that can save their lives and get them to a hospital in time for medical help. If immunization is to blame then we are only going to make things worse with all of the new immunizations. If it is environmental and due to all of the toxins then what we have done to the planet will continue to be reflected in our health but hopefully attempts to save the planet will also show improvement in our health.
I agree with both of you! I believe as much as we have moved forward with science, we have moved backwards. I understand life expectancy is longer than in the 'olden days' but at what cost? I hope as time moves forward that a balance will be found.

How do we deal with it?

How do we deal with it, well we are fortunate that it is shellfish and not peanuts. So we ask about food where ever we go. If we are going to a pot luck where many have brought food we ask the hostess as discreetly as possible and try to always get the little one's plate of food first before cross contamination has occured. We also try to bring something that we know she likes so she always has something to eat. We have taught her to always ask before she eats anything but because she is very shy that has been difficult.

Are our schools making the right choice, being 'peanut free'?

NO! I do know at the little one's school it is not peanut free. All the signs say Peanut Aware. I think it has to do with insurance issues. Also, when I was getting insurance for my business I had two companies turn me down because of the allergy issue and feeding children. I know that if one of my children were allergic to anything then I would appreciate the school keeping such foods away from my children. My kids are very aware of children and teachers with allergies in their classrooms. Even though they can wash their hands and brush their teeth before they leave for school they are very reluctant to eat peanut butter for breakfast. Keeping certain foods out of their lunches is not a big deal and if we can help to save a life then it is more than worth it. Our school has a nut free policy and in certain classes depending on the children there are no eggs or kiwi or seafood allowed.

I can understand the nut free policy in the primary grades. However, once the children reach an age where they understand I feel lunches should not be restricted. If someone has a touch sensitivity, that's different.

What about the dairy and seafood allergies which are just as life threatening?

It seems to me that the schools only value the peanut allergy children lives and not the other children who have life threatening allergies. I totally agree that they can't ban all allergy foods. But I think they have gone a little over board. I support the idea for elementary schools that if a child (say grade three and under) has an allergy then the class should respect that issue. But to ban peanuts across the board does not make sense. Now that schools have had a chance to really read the "Sabrina's Law 2005", they have relaxed some of their earlier rules. I know the teenager's high school no longer has a peanut ban. Students can eat peanut products and the cafeteria sells all kinds of peanut and nut products. The law never said peanuts had to be baned it only stated that all schools must have a emergency plan in place, all school staff must be trained in recognizing an allergy and know how to use an epi-pen. That all students who have this type of allergy must have valid epi-pens at school where they can be easily accessed. Miss teen sunshine is in high school now and she has a good friend who she eats lunch with who reacts to even the smell of peanut butter. She decided to stop taking her favourite granola bars to school because of it. If we can do anything to help then I think that we should.

Do the tests for allergies show how serious the reaction will be or does it only show that there was a reaction?

Unfortunately, the testing does not tell us how serious the next reaction might be so that is why it is best to avoid the food at all cost. I wonder if they can test to see if the allergen has to be ingested or not. This could be done at the doctor's office so if there was a reaction it could be dealt with in seconds. Is this feasable?

Should the policy be zero tolerance or should we be teaching our children, once they are old enough, how to read labels or ask questions?

As a parent we need to do what is best for our children and keep them as safe as possible, but, we do not have the right to expect others to change their lifestyles for us. So, we need to always be prepared and have something for our children to eat that is a 'safe' food. And yes, teach our children to always ask before putting anything in their mouths. If they are not sure then they don't eat it.
I like the zero tolerance policy and I feel that families with children with allergies should not feel bad in asking us to keep those foods away from their children. If it were my child then I know that I would have greater peace of mind knowing that the school was trying their best to keep my child safe in my absence.
I feel that education is the best for everyone. I don't agree with zero tolerance as I feel the child needs to learn how to adapt to life everywhere. However, just to clarify again, I do see the value of keeping allergens free from the primary levels.

If you have a food allergy or know someone who does, how do you handle it?

We really don't think about the allergy all that much. We try to always have her geek bag (as we call it) with us when we go out. It has her puffers for asthma, two epi-pens, benedryl, and Tylenol. Either my husband or I will ask the hostess when we arrive if there is any seafood in any food and then we know what she can have or what she can't. I have noticed that the little one does not eat stuff even if she is the slightest bit concerned which is a good thing. I was at a get together with Carolin and her family on Saturday and I heard her ask the hostess if anything contained seafood before we started to eat. I thought about how difficult it must be to always have to be concerned about such a thing. Eating is something we do several times a day so people with allergies must never get a break from their worries. That must be tough.
Well, as I said above, my sister has an allergy to nuts. We still have peanut butter in our home. she knows to stay away from the strawberry jam jar as it gets contaminated from the peanut butter. We don't eat peanut butter if we are going to see her. Thankfully, her kids do not share her allergy. At Halloween I always have peanut free options and I offer them so the kids and their parents can make a choice.

We are careful when we go to restaurants, we don't go to buffet restaurants (no Mandarin for us!) and we read labels carefully especially with food that comes from Costco. If you read their labels in some of their baked goods you will notice Fish Oil as a ingredient. Since we can't tell what fish it is from we just avoid buying or eating it.

I think the biggest thing we need to understand is sometimes life is just not fair and not everyone can be treated the same. We deal with the hand God gave us and move on with it.

Do some people actually grow out of being allergic to certain things or is it only the other way around? I have heard of people who have had no trouble with a certain food allergy for their entire life and then one day in adulthood, they suddenly develop a severe allergy to a certain food. That is really scary too!

I can only hope that as the world gets 'greener' that the incidence of food allergies will decrease.

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