by Pat MacIntosh
Another school year has started! Kids have new classrooms and classmates or sometimes even new schools. Often this means new rules about what foods are allowed in the classroom for the school to help protect children with food allergies.
An allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to a food protein (an allergen). Some common food allergens are: peanuts, tree nuts, soy, seafood (fish and shellfish), wheat, eggs, and milk.
Symptoms of allergic reactions can be different for everyone and may occur within minutes or hours. The most common symptoms of allergies are:
Flushed or pale face, hives, rash, itchy skin
Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, throat, or tongue
Coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath
Stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting
Feeling anxious, weak, dizzy, or faint
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to food can occur quickly and without warning. These reactions can be life-threatening. They can be treated with an epinephrine auto injector; an EpiPen®. The only way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid contact with the foods or ingredients that cause them.
According to Food Allergy Canada about 300,000 Canadian kids have a food allergy. Many school districts now have food guidelines to help keep students with food allergies safe.
Often these guidelines include:
No sharing of food or treats
Washing hands with soap and water before and after eating. Alcohol rubs do not remove allergens well.
Not allowing certain foods in the classroom/school.
No homemade treats for special events. Even if parents are aware of the allergens to avoid, cross contamination is always possible.
Everyone has a role to play in keeping all children safe at school. It is important to remember that food allergies are a serious medical condition, not a choice. Children exposed to a food allergen may die. Help prevent exposure to the allergen by not sending it to school.
If you would like to learn more about allergies, go to http://foodallergycanada.ca/ or myhealth.alberta.ca. If someone in your family has a food allergy, you can meet with a Registered Dietitian. Call your local outpatient nutrition department to book an appointment.
Pat MacIntosh is a Registered Dietitian with Alberta Health Services, Nutrition Services. She can be reached by e-mail, [email protected].