NORTH JERSEY — As winter approaches, those with seasonal allergies can breathe a sigh of relief. not everyone, however, is so lucky.
Those with severe allergic reactions to foods such as peanuts must live with caution year round. many schools have even implemented restrictions to help protect children with severe food allergies, even though not everyone is happy about it.
Peanut allergies can result in a wide range of reactions depending on the severity of the allergy, said Dr. Niya Wanich, allergist at Allergy and Asthma Specialists in Riverdale. These can be as mild as a few hives, or a severe anaphylactic reaction accompanied by a drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing.
With peanut allergies, Wanich said the immune system produces what is known as IgE antibodies. These antibodies detect the peanut protein and mount an attack that causes the allergic reaction.
There are no preventative medications that can be taken for peanut allergies. Wanich said that when a child is diagnosed with (or suspected to have) a peanut allergy, parents should discuss ways to prevent exposure with doctors. with young children, any supervising adult should be aware of the allergy, as well as how to treat a reaction and use the Epi-Pen.
Ringwood mother Nicole Wright recently discovered her 3-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy. Wright’s home contains absolutely no peanut products. if something was manufactured in a plant that processes peanuts, Wright doesn’t buy it. Wright is continually surprised by the non-nut foods her daughter cannot eat because of possible cross contamination – everything from ice-cream cake to pretzels.
Wright and her older children sometimes eat peanuts outside the house, but they must wash up thoroughly before coming inside. this is because Wright first realized her daughter’s allergy after her son ate a peanut butter sandwich and gave her a kiss, resulting in a rash.
“Generally, ingestion of peanut protein is required to cause a significant reaction,” Wanich said.
Wanich referred to a study in which peanut butter was rubbed on the skin of 30 highly peanut-allergic children. only one third developed a reaction, restricted to a blotch in the area of contact. None of the children had systemic reactions.
In other words, although extreme caution cannot hurt, according to Wanich’s research non-internal contact with peanut protein would only cause a mild, localized reaction, if any at all.
Because young children don’t always understand the implications of eating foods they’re allergic to, many schools refuse to take chances, ensuring that an allergic child is protected in nut-free classrooms.
Mary Miraglia, whose daughter is in a peanut-free kindergarten classroom in Vernon, thought packing nut-free snacks would be a big inconvenience. Instead, she found it easy to pack her daughter’s snack with fruit and yogurt and said the experience has prompted her to pay more attention to food labels in general.
“There’s so much junk that they put into food, I realized that looking for peanuts is the least of [our family’s] worries when it comes to food,” Miraglia said.
Tara Kipilla, a 9-year-old student at Cedar Mountain School in Vernon, is in a nut-free classroom this year. Because lunches are kept in a bin outside the room, Kipilla said packed lunches are allowed to have nuts, although snacks eaten in-class cannot. Snacks must also be clearly labeled and must be kept separate from lunchboxes.
Kipilla doesn’t have a problem with the nut-free class. In fact, she appreciates that the frequent hand washing necessary upon entering the room keeps the sick germs down, she said.
Mary Lemin, whose son has been in a peanut-free classroom in Franklin Lakes for the past six years, initially thought it was unfair her son couldn’t have his favorite foods. However, since the school only restricts nuts during in-class snack time, she discovered that wasn’t necessarily the case.
“I am totally okay with it now,” Lemin said. “If I had a child who was allergic I would be grateful that others were taking my child into consideration when they pack their child’s foods. I am thankful that he is in a school system that cares about the children’s needs.”
Daniela Redpath didn’t realize her 9-year-old son was allergic to tree nuts until after he had a reaction so severe he needed to be hospitalized. this year the school sent home a list of safe foods to all his classmates. Any in-class snacks or celebration treats must adhere to this list. For those who need complete isolation, the school provides nut-free lunch tables.
“Parents are very supportive of this and have even e-mailed me to let me know what is going on, i.e. a party or holiday event. I think that it is very important for parents to be considerate of this rule and help the school by enforcing it,” Redpath said.
Arelis Batista, whose 6-year-old son is in first grade in the Ridgefield school system, is asked not to pack nut lunches or snacks.