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Empathy, Understanding, and Objectivity Need to Prevail for Students with Food Allergies

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Food allergy is a growing epidemic in the United States, affecting more and more children every year. Therefore, we as a nation need to have awareness that food allergens can pose a potential threat to one’s life and that avoidance of these foods, especially in the school setting, is often not an easy task.

According to Matthew Greenhawt, MD, MBA, FAAP, medical advisor for the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation and a researcher and pediatric allergist with experience in investigating reactions occurring in educational settings, knowing the real risks versus the perceived risks can be helpful in school planning for children with food allergies:

Reactions do occur at school, and can be severe in certain circumstances. However, most food allergic children attend school safely every day.

Bullying of students with food allergy occurs. It is very common for food allergic children to report being teased, taunted, and harassed because of their food allergy.

Knowing the real risks versus the perceived risks can be helpful in school planning for children with food allergies.

The risk of a severe allergic reaction occurring to an environmental accidental contact exposure that does not involve ingestion appears to be extremely low.

When reactions do occur, treatment is sometimes delayed or the wrong treatment is used. Emergency action plans are not always followed, and many food allergic students neither maintain an emergency action plan nor maintain emergency medication at school.

Thus, while there is a recognized risk for an allergic reaction to food to occur at school, it’s unlikely to occur without the child actually ingesting the food or putting his hands into his mouth after touching a contaminated surface. Unfortunately, in many cases both the school and the food allergic family are not always prepared to treat such reactions. Here are some important points to consider:

Kids with food allergy can and do safely attend school each day, and this is the common goal that we all must work together to achieve.

Students with food allergy need to have a current emergency action plan and maintain emergency medication, such as epinephrine, at school.

Simple strategies, such as hand washing after food contact, not sharing food, and being aware that certain children have dietary restrictions when planning craft projects or class celebrations, can be of great utility, and pose minimal disruption.

Efforts should be focused on common sense approaches stressing empathy, understanding, and a sense of a communal effort to protect all students – those with and without food allergy.


This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2011.