School Allergy Policies Can Go Too Far

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Lori Sandler's experience with her son's Westchester County, N.Y., school has been much smoother. She praised both the school staff and parents for going out of their way to put protections in place for her 12-year-old son and the other kids with allergies.

"We all have the same goal. We want all of the kids to be included and not adversely affected," she said.

Sandler said that for allergy-aware policies to be as effective and painless as possible, there must be a two way street. She's careful to update the school about her son's changing medical needs (many kids grow into and out of allergies as they age) and has taken on the responsibility of providing the classroom snacks. For its part, the school has set up a nut-and-allergen-free zone in the school cafeteria and communicates thoughtfully with her son's classmates and their families.

There have, however, been a few hiccups along the way. "He once stared at a jar of peanut butter sitting on a shelf in a classroom for more than half a year before he finally told us about it," she related. "He said it was like staring at a loaded gun." It wasn't left there on purpose, but to the Sandlers it underscored their need to stay vigilant.

Food Allergies on the Rise

The prevalence of food allergies among children under the age of 18 is about 4 percent, and has risen about 18 percent in the past decade, according to the most recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have other related conditions, such as asthma, and other allergies, compared with children who don't have food allergies. From 2004 to 2006, there were approximately 9,500 hospital discharges a year with a diagnosis related to food allergies among children younger than 18.

"Anyone who has a serious food allergy risks having an anaphylaxis reaction when exposed to the allergen. Therefore, it's reasonable for schools to take the proper precautions," said Dr. Stanley Fineman, a board certified allergist and president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Besides, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, schools are legally obligated to protect children who have allergies against discrimination. Fineman emphasized that policies must be reasonable and practical. Equally important, they need to have scientific validity.

"Rinsing out the mouth is not one of the typical recommendations," he said.

The most updated guidelines for coping with food allergies may be found on the ACAAI website.

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