What happens when your child is allergic to nuts?

Written by Will Dalton, CNN Sensitivity to peanuts can range from mild, such as food aversion, to life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis. One in six Americans are allergic to peanuts, and that number is predicted…

What happens when your child is allergic to nuts?

Written by Will Dalton, CNN

Sensitivity to peanuts can range from mild, such as food aversion, to life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis. One in six Americans are allergic to peanuts, and that number is predicted to double by 2050.

The tragedy that befell 9-year-old Gabby Perez in Las Vegas came as a result of a severe reaction caused by a severe reaction she had had earlier in the day, after eating her favorite snack in her Spanish immersion class.

In a statement released by the family on the day of her death, Gabby wrote on Instagram about her life-changing experience and the impact it had on her family.

“On this day I am losing my mommy, goodbye”

While school staff were not the first to know what had happened, it may come as a surprise that many families never report it when an allergic reaction occurs.

It’s estimated that parents are “five times more likely to notice food allergies in their children than in other children, but only half of parents call the ambulance after an allergic reaction”, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Think of your instinct. If it’s something itchy or uncomfortable, then you almost immediately become hyperventilating and you don’t want to be out in the world for longer than you have to,” explains Dr. Samuel McCollum, an allergist at George Washington University.

For many parents of children with allergies, long-term symptoms, such as hay fever and asthma, are often associated with a reaction. However, asthma and hay fever are both immune reactions, meaning allergies are the cause of the symptoms, according to Prof. David Meaker, of the Program on Respiratory Hygiene at the University of Wisconsin.

“Your immune system cannot distinguish between one or the other, so it gets confused,” explains Meaker.

For many parents of children with allergies, long-term symptoms, such as hay fever and asthma, are often associated with a reaction. However, asthma and hay fever are both immune reactions, meaning allergies are the cause of the symptoms, according to Prof. David Meaker, of the Program on Respiratory Hygiene at the University of Wisconsin.

Prevention is key

Signs of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, a runny nose, sneezing, a severe itching of the mouth and rashes or hives (swelling of the skin) in the face, throat and back.

“Allergic reactions are usually caused by a stimulus – so, for example, if you have a reaction when you eat tree nuts, it is very likely that the trigger was a particular chemical in the nut,” says Meaker.

For starters, children are taught how to handle nuts with what is known as the “pit stop,” in which they hold the food in their hand and let it fall to the floor, where it will fall apart.

If a child has a peanut allergy, Meaker recommends using the “butter as per” technique to avoid exposure. This means: “I put a few tablespoons of peanut butter into the bag, and in front of my child, I say, ‘Open the bag.’ And I make sure the child goes to the peanut butter first — so, if the child starts to feel out of breath and his/her skin starts to rheumatically change, they go to the peanut butter and eat it. And I gently place the bag on the floor so the peanut butter can absorb in the bag — make sure it’s really cold and the peanut butter won’t spread to the floor.”

When things go wrong

But this technique does have its limits.

“Peanut allergies are fairly complex. There are incidents where they seem to get from reacting to the peanut butter on the floor to standing up up out of their seat,” says Meaker.

Without the proper equipment and guidance, teachers, cafeteria staff and day care workers could find themselves in a tough position, says McCollum.

In many schools, a state-of-the-art, five-minute room exists where teachers can have blood drawn to monitor for a reaction. Parents are also given a cell phone to keep informed and can call a panic button if their child feels unwell.

However, there is no standardized protocol, so it is up to individual teachers to work with their staff to be prepared for an emergency.

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