It is time to talk about peanut allergies, but also about the need for more education in schools. Nearly one in six children in America are affected by food allergies — much higher than the percentage of children who have asthma. The impact of this sudden and extreme allergy is often serious and distressing: An emergency room visit for a child with anaphylaxis is about five times more likely if they have peanut allergies.
Of course, we know that the biggest part of the problem in school settings is the parents’ tendency to tuck children away in their own rooms or offices or wherever the risk of infection is lowest. The consequences can be disastrous. The Journal of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology reports that a white girl in one Connecticut school case had to be rushed to the emergency room after returning to class after lunch for the first time in two weeks.
When children with peanut allergies return to school this week, many parents will worry that their children’s symptoms might return, if any appeared to dissipate. To be able to properly treat children with food allergies, parents and teachers need to be familiar with what they are looking for and learn how to spot food allergies when they appear.
In children with peanut allergies, finding out that the skin rash that characterized them the day before is back can mean a sudden, dramatic reaction to a food treat. Without any direct contact with a food that is inherently allergenic, it may be impossible to know that peanut allergies exist. But skin reactions do occur after peanuts are eaten and can be a signal of a food allergy. Usually skin reactions are an early sign of an allergic reaction — a reaction that children with food allergies often find themselves experiencing at school for the first time.
Early signs of an allergic reaction are usually seen as rash, but skin rash is also the first sign of a reaction that may be asthma-like. Until the child has experienced an allergic reaction, there may be no suspicion that they have an allergy. But parents need to pay attention: Severe allergic reactions of less severe to moderate severity occur frequently among children with this type of skin rash and may also be an early indicator of an allergic reaction.
Allergies are an individual condition, but one person’s symptoms may be different from another person’s symptoms. By paying attention to signs and symptoms that indicate an allergic reaction, parents and teachers can protect children from any dangerous reactions, such as anaphylaxis.
Sesame is another common allergy. Allergic reactions happen when the immune system mounts an allergic reaction to substances in a food. The reaction can lead to swelling, tingling and itching, or palpitations and swelling around the mouth. If you suspect that your child may have sesame allergies, you should ask that the school’s principal observe a child to make sure that they are safe, without causing more problems than they are worth. There is also a safe and effective food test for kids with sesame allergies, and it can guide parents to a safe snack choice that is out of reach for their children.
Most children with anaphylaxis are sometimes treated with epinephrine to reverse the effects of anaphylaxis; it is a relatively cheap and easy way to control the situation. In schools, epinephrine often requires obtaining a certificate and an authorized dispenser, but school safety regulations for epinephrine can vary by state and the school does not have to use a bottle that is labeled for anaphylaxis. So this is another reason for parents to make sure that the medication is accessible.
Everyone should know the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and learn how to respond appropriately when these symptoms show themselves. Parents and teachers who look for those symptoms when children return to school this week should be relieved that their children’s allergies are under control. But they can be mindful that a lot of work remains to be done to ensure that children with food allergies get the education they need to better handle reactions.