Defining Food Allergies
A food allergy is an unusual response to a food caused by the body’s immune system. Allergic reactions to food can sometimes cause serious illness and even death. Tree nuts and peanuts are the leading causes of dangerous allergic reactions called anaphylaxis.
In adults, the foods that most often trigger allergic reactions include:
- Fish and shellfish, such as shrimp, lobster and crab
- Tree nuts, such as walnuts
Problem foods for children are eggs, milk (especially in infants and young children) and peanuts.
Today, it is estimated that 20% of American children have allergies.
More importantly, Common popular foods in the United States contain chemicals and toxins that have been linked to alarming recent increases in food allergies, ADHD, cancer, and asthma in our children.
In the last twenty years, we have seen an epidemic increase in allergies, asthma, ADHD and autism, including a:
- 400% increase in food allergies
- 300% increase in asthma, with a 56% increase in asthma deaths
- 400% increase in ADHD
- and between a 1,500 and 6,000% increase in autism.
The male/female ratio for food allergies is 2:1 and the male/female ratio for asthma is 3:1.
Quick Facts about Food Allergies
The following five statements provide a simple yet comprehensive introduction to the basic medical facts about food allergies:
- An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system that can affect any system of the body, including the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and skin systems.
- Ingestion of even a minute amount of the allergenic food can trigger this overreaction and cause a variety of symptoms ranging from mild nausea or itching to anaphylaxis.
- Anaphylaxis is a systemic allergic reaction that can kill within minutes.
- There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of the allergenic food is the only way to prevent a potentially life-threatening reaction.
- Because the severity of an allergic reaction is unpredictable and can range from mild to life-threatening, early recognition of symptoms and prompt intervention are critical for saving lives. Deaths have occurred in schools due to failure to recognize and promptly treat anaphylactic reactions.
Avoidance of the Food Allergen
Because strict avoidance of the allergen is the only way to prevent reactions, it is crucial that teachers and staff be given practical information on how to make the classroom/lunchroom/play-ground safe for food-allergic students. They should be taught:
- How to read food ingredient labels. (Demonstrations with actual labels are especially helpful.)
- How to check the ingredients in art supplies and in other products that may contain allergens, such as soaps or hand lotions.
- How to use proper cleaning methods for tables and other surfaces.
- The importance of teaching students to wash hands before and after contact with food.
- Recognizing the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Early recognition of symptoms saves lives. Every allergic reaction is different and may not involve hives or other skin symptoms. Teachers and staff must be taught to watch for:
- Mouth – Itching, tingling, or swelling of lips, tongue, mouth
- Skin – Hives, itchy rash, swelling of the face or extremities
- Gut – Nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
- Throat – Hacking cough, tightening of throat, hoarseness
- Lung – Shortness of breath, repetitive cough, wheezing
- Heart – Thready pulse, low blood pressure, fainting, pale, blueness
- Mental – Sudden quietness or decreased responsiveness
Emergency Action Plan!
Every school should have its own emergency protocol. Teachers and staff must be trained on what to do in an anaphylaxis emergency, including the protocols in place for:
- Administering the epinephrine auto-injector (Epipen™ or Twinject ™).
- Calling 911 (Emergency Rescue).