By Dr. John Jones
Food allergies are on the rise in the United States. The most common foods that cause allergic reactions are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, and shellfish.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction range from mild–rashes, hives, itching and swelling– to severe–trouble breathing, vomiting, loss of consciousness and even death.
Peanut allergy is the most common cause of death due to food allergens.
It affects approximately 2% of the population. For some people with peanut allergy, even tiny amounts of peanuts can cause a serious reaction.
This can make it really tough for an allergic child to lead a normal life, and causes parents of children with allergies to live in fear. There is no cure for peanut allergy, so the only option to keep these allergic children safe is strict avoidance.
Unfortunately, it is not enough for a child to be taught to avoid peanuts and peanut products themselves, because these products are so prevalent in our diet children can easily be accidentally exposed to peanuts through contact with other children and their foods.
These kids with allergies will have the best chance for a happy, safe, normal school experience if communities are willing to work together to help keep all children safe.
What can you do to help?
- Consider eliminating peanuts and peanut butter from your child’s diet until 3 pm weekdays. It might help you broaden your child’s palette, and it could quite literally save a life. One great option is to use peanut butter alternatives for school. Alternatives that are highly rated for taste include Wowbutter, Sunbutter, IM Healthy soybutter and almond butter.
- If you can’t eliminate the peanut butter or peanut-based snacks, please teach your children about the importance of washing their hands and face (and brushing their teeth if possible) after eating them. Our kids are going to touch each other when they play, and these small actions can greatly reduce the risk of secondary exposure to children who are even sensitive to skin exposure.
- Look for school snacks that do not include peanuts. The “trace amounts” warning that is almost ubiquitous is far preferable to actual peanut ingredients.
- Obviously, we all have to be careful at home. Never feed another child without knowing their allergy status, and never take your child for a play date without informing the parents if your child has an allergy.
- Talk to your child about peanut and other food allergies and how scary they are for a child who is allergic. It’s a great opportunity to build empathy – and to help your child think about how their behavior affects others!
Our “allergy parents” do everything they can to keep their kids safe. They are faced with a life-threatening problem that they need the help of those around them, many of them strangers, to tackle. If you are fortunate enough to not face this threat yourself, imagine how you would feel if it was your child, and know that these parents will be forever grateful for your help and first in line to return in kind.
It does take a village, so let’s all do our part to keep all of our children healthy!