When told the safest way to protect her children from allergic reactions from food during school lunch time would be to have them eat at a "peanut-free table," Christina Robinson-Race initially worried that her children would feel like outcasts. "I thought, 'my kids are going to be those kids who are sitting at a table by themselves.'" however, Colin Race, 7, and Anna Race, 9, both students at Iles School in Springfield, Ill., are allowed to invite a friend to join them for lunch. And Robinson-Race speaks highly of how the school district takes care of students who have severe allergic reactions to certain foods. "It (has) meant so much to us that our kids are so protected," she said. "I couldn't feel more confident knowing how protective everyone is and how the kids look out for each other. District 186 (in Illinois) does an awesome job with allergy management." of the roughly 15,000 students attending Springfield public schools, 460 are on record as having a diagnosed food allergy, said Barb Germann, health services coordinator for the district. That's up from 194 who were listed during the 2001-02 school year, when enrollment was 15,037. the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of Americans under age 18 who reported a food allergy rose 18 percent from 1997 to 2007. "We're talking chocolate and oranges, peanuts and shellfish, ranch dressing, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries and cinnamon," Germann said. " … there is one first-grader who is allergic to squash. I don't think we serve that much." Dealing with food allergies covers more than just what's on the menu when schools serve students lunch. Germann said the district addresses food allergies by teaching employees the proper administration of epinephrine and alerting them to students' allergies.
Parents are told about foods that should be eliminated from class parties. in some cases, peanut-free cafeteria tables are provided for students who might have a severe allergic reaction. Except for a couple of times a month when peanut butter sandwiches are on the menu, Robinson-Race's children are able to eat the food served in the cafeteria, she said. But they miss out on classroom treats such as cupcakes purchased from a bakery because of the possibility of cross-contamination by baked goods, such as peanut butter cookies. Robinson-Race said teachers are very conscientious about having students wash their hands to further protect her children from exposure to peanuts or peanut products that the students might have touched. Managing food allergies however, Dr. Jeff Lehman, an allergy/immunology specialist with Hospital Sisters Health System Medical Group in Springfield, Ill., is not an advocate of peanut-free tables because of the potential for children to be harmed socially. "you know how mean kids can be in school," he said. "I've had several (patients) have problems where they have had other kids make fun of them, and they feel different from the other kids … as long as you really educate them about not sharing food, they should be OK (sitting with other students).” Every school district in Illinois was supposed to adopt a policy last year for managing life-threatening food allergies, based on guidelines established by the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Germann, who noted that the Springfield district complied with that mandate. "It is actually a very excellent resource for schools to have on hand because it is user-friendly and provides the information you need and what you need to do for food allergies," she said of the guidelines. the reason for the increased focus on food allergies is because of a "tremendous increase in food allergies" in recent years, Lehman said, citing the "hygiene hypothesis" as the leading theory for that. "We're leading too clean of a lifestyle," he explained. "We're treating our cattle with antibiotics. everybody has become more of a germaphobe. Kids are spending more time inside playing video games instead of playing outside in the dirt." Because of lack of exposure to germs and allergens, children do not build up tolerance to them, he said. And because the immune system does not have infections to fight, it attacks foods or environmental elements, instead. "there are multiple studies to support this, especially with kids raised on farms," Lehman said. "Allergies are much, much lower than in kids who were not raised on farms."
Lifelong or short-term? the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines are to wait until children are at least age 3 to give them peanuts, tree nuts, seafood and fish, but "there is absolutely zero scientific evidence to support this," Lehman said. "I recommend that whatever you want to feed (them), as long as it isn't a choking hazard after 4 to 6 months of age, go ahead. you might actually be doing more harm by withholding it." there is a chance that those children who do develop food allergies may outgrow them, Lehman said, adding that this applies primarily to milk, eggs, soy and wheat. "Peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish tend to be lifelong but can be outgrown," he said. "It was thought that 20 to 30 percent of peanut-allergic patients can outgrow their allergy, but recent data suggests less than 10 percent will outgrow it. the caveat is that 20 to 30 percent of those patients that outgrow peanut allergy can become allergic again. Children can be re-tested to see if they have outgrown their food allergy about once every year." Researchers are working on "vaccines to desensitize peanut-allergic patients," Lehman said. "Most of the work is being done with peanut since it has the biggest increase in incidence over the past 10 years."
Dealing with allergic reactions a new law in Illinois allows schools to keep a drug on hand to help students who have severe allergic reactions.
the law was passed on Aug. 15 at a Chicago school where a 13-year-old girl died after eating some Chinese takeout food. Katelyn Carlson had a fatal allergic reaction to the food, which contained peanut oil. Illinois State Rep. Chris Nybo, the father of a 7-year-old son who has a food allergy, sponsored the bill, saying he saw an opportunity to "turn a very tragic and sad incident into something positive … and save lives down the road." the law allows Illinois schools to keep a supply of epinephrine to give to students suspected of having a serious allergic reaction to food and other allergens, such as bee stings. this prescription medication is injected into the thigh muscle via a device called an EpiPen. It helps improve breathing, stimulates the heart, reverses hives and reduces swelling, said Dr. Jeff Lehman, an allergy/immunology specialist with Hospital Sisters Health System Medical Group in Springfield, Ill. Before the legislation passed, students had to supply their own EpiPens for their own use, Nybo said.
"so, the schools always had their hands tied in terms of just keeping general epinephrine on hand," he said. Nybo said Katelyn did not have an EpiPen because her peanut allergy had previously seemed minor. He said the law also helps students who might have a first-time reaction to an undiagnosed allergen or who forgot to bring an EpiPen to school. Lehman recommends having two EpiPens handy in case the allergic reaction reoccurs.
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