Thursday, August 30, 2007

Kids and Food Allergies

Summer is winding down to its final hours and of course that means back to school. As teacher of the "food appreciation" classes in the after-school program at a certain private elementary school here in the District of Columbia, I was invited to join in on some the faculty preparations.

One of those was a presentation this morning by the school nurse in front of the entire faculty describing case-by-case the food allergies, asthma conditions and other health issues afflicting each child in the school.

I have to say I was surprised by the number of children with food allergies and suffering some degree of asthma. To me, this brings home in a very powerful way all those statistics you read saying that environmental conditions (read pollution, chemicals in the food and in furniture, clothing, beauty products) are pushing the incidence of allergies and asthma through the roof.

I have some personal experience with this because my mother suffered symptoms of allergies back in the 70s and of course all the doctors told her it was in her head. All but one Dr. Theron Randolph, who now is regarded as the pioneering founder of the widely recognized field of candida allergies. But that is another story. I also had a cousin who had issues with food dyes.

If this morning's faculty meeting is any indication, food allergies and asthma are rampant. Some cases are far more severe than others. But a serious food allergy or a serious case of asthma can be life threatening. Some kids have both. I stopped counting how many kids in this one school are walking around with EpiPens in their back backs in case of an allergy attack.

And of course all the teachers have been turned into health care workers, hence the session with the school nurse. They have to know which kids have issues and what to do in case of an emergency. This is one area where confidentiality in medical records does not apply, because the parents want everyone to know that their child suffers a food allergy, and to which specific foods, or that their child has an asthma condition, just in case Johnny stops breathing.

In fact, several of the faculty members reported that the other children play an important role in watching out for their classmates who have food allergies. Children at this school are required to bring their own lunches and snacks from home. They are not allowed to share food, mainly because of the allergy issues. But as we learned today, hand washing is extremely important not just before eating, but after eating as well. There have been reported cases, for instance, of children leaving food proteins from items such as peanut butter sandwiches on computer keyboards, only to be picked up later by a child with a sever peanut allergy.

As I learned today, we have kids at this school with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, milk, soy, spinach (a child's dream, no?), shrimp, lobster, oysters, scallops, squid, octopus, green beans, sesame, kiwi and I don't even remember what else. (Did you know that an allergy to kiwi is usually accompanied by an allergy to latex?)

Thorough washing of hands with soap and water before and after eating is recommended not only for children, but for adults as well. Also important to remember is that disinfectants kill bacteria, but they do nothing to get rid of the food proteins that cause allergic reactions. For that you need to cleanse and wipe the stuff away, preferably with a paper towel or other disposable as the proteins will stick to a sponge and be transfered elsewhere.

The previous day, we after-school instructors met with the nurse for a three-hour video course in first aid. Allergies, including food and insect bites, require training in the use of an EpiPen, basically a hypodermic needle containing a single dose of allergy medicine. You remove the safety cap from one end of the pen (about the size of a really big magic marker) and jab the working end into the patient's thigh. A spring mechanism shoots a rather thick needle right through clothing into the skin. The medicine, we were told, is effective for about 15 minutes, long enough for an ambulance crew to arrive. Except that the response time for the ambulance service at this school for some reason averages around 20 minutes. Be ready to crack open another EpiPen.

It was reported today that there is one little boy at the school who has a peanut allergy and thinks he is having a reaction basically all the time. Last year he used his EpiPen on himself a couple of times for no reason. We were advised to keep an eye on him.

Last year I made of point of not preparing any food containing nuts or peanuts in our "food appreciation" classes. Too bad for the muffins, but what are you going to do?


AllergyMom said...

It is a pleasure to hear from someone who took the allergy and asthma training so seriously, and also took the time to document it so that others can benefit.

As a parent of a food allergic child, I have come to learn that in some circumstances I need to let go of the care of my child and trust others.

I know I speak for many allergy parents when I tell you how grateful we are for caregivers like you!

Take care,

Ed Bruske said...

glad to do it, allergy mom