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Great article on coping with peanut allergies

April 1, 2008

As most of you know, Ava suffers from a life threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts (tree nuts being almonds, pecans, walnuts…basically any nut). We’ve known of these allergies for about a year, and have had to get used to the looks we get when we deny our little girl a seemingly harmless M&M, or why our pulses race when she gets any sort of rash. And let’s not even go to the level of guilt I feel when I try to tell Ava that no, she can’t have any birthday cake at the party because the cake was not homemade but instead was *gasp* baked in a bakery instead. No, we’re not crazy. We’re just trying to not kill our kid.

Ava starts preschool in September, and I must admit, most of the reason that I was hesitant to send her was that I was worried about her possibly interracting with kids who might have touched a peanut product and not correctly washed their hands. Four of the five preschools I spoke with would not guarantee her a nut free classroom, let alone a nut free school. Luckily, we finally found a school that would be completely nut free, and just in case, would allow her to have her Epi Pen with her at all times (the teachers there are all trained in how to correctly administer it, should they need to).

My friend Nicole, whose daughter also suffers from a life threatening peanut allergy, found this article and I thought I would post it here, because it sums up Joel and my feelings on dealing with the allergies in our lives:

My peanut fears are growing
Mickey Hepner
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND— I admit it, I am afraid of peanut butter. I know that some day a perfectly normal parent will give their perfectly normal child a perfectly normal peanut butter sandwich to take to school. While this act may seem harmless, that peanut butter sandwich could send my daughter to the emergency room.

You see, my 5-year-old daughter Gracie has a significant peanut allergy. Any exposure to products made with peanuts could trigger an anaphylactic reaction that requires her to receive immediate medical treatment. We are fortunate that she has yet to suffer a severe anaphylactic reaction. The allergic reactions she has experienced though, were noticeable enough to make us concerned about the future.

Not surprisingly, this fear has made my wife and I very cautious about the foods she eats. Unfortunately, keeping her diet peanut-free is more difficult than just keeping her away from peanut butter. Peanuts are used in many products, from cakes to cookies, from enchiladas to egg rolls. As a result, we do not let her eat something unless we know for certain that every ingredient is safe.

Furthermore, we have to ensure that nothing that potentially could touch her food could have potentially touched peanuts. For example, she cannot have plain M&M’s (or almost any chocolate) because they are processed on the same equipment that also processes peanut M&M’s. Thus, it is likely that some peanut proteins from the peanut M&M’s could be transmitted to the plain M&M’s.

However, protecting Gracie involves more than just watching what she eats, we also have to watch what she smells and touches, too. This is why peanut butter sandwiches at schools scare me. Suppose a child eats a peanut butter sandwich for lunch at school, and then does not wash his hands carefully as children sometimes fail to do. Every time he touches anything — a computer, a table or even a swing — he is potentially spreading peanut proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction in my daughter.

While most people do not understand the dangers that food allergies can cause, there are some working to change that. Country music star Trace Adkins has a daughter who suffers from a severe peanut allergy in addition to allergies to milk, eggs and tree nuts. He recently competed on Celebrity Apprentice in order to raise funds for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, an advocacy group promoting awareness of food allergies. In fact, if you purchase the live version of his single “You’re Gonna Miss This” from iTunes, all of the proceeds go to support this organization.

Additionally, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., have introduced the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act (S. 1232, H.R. 2063) that calls on the U.S. Department of Education to develop standards to help our schools protect children with food allergies. These standards would give schools guidance on how they should respond to a severe anaphylaxis reaction, and the steps they can take to help prevent one from ever occurring.

Considering the fact that food allergies cause 30,000 emergency room visits, and 150 deaths per year (many of them young children who did not receive prompt medical attention), this legislation could be the difference between life and death for some children.

While progress is being made, I still do not feel secure. Next week, we will register my daughter to attend kindergarten next year in the Edmond School District. I know that this means we are transitioning to a new stage in her life, a time of excitement and discovery for her. But this is also a time of increased anxiety for me because I realize my wife and I no will longer be able to monitor her environment to ensure her safety. I know I will join the millions of fathers worried about whether their child will have a severe allergic reaction at school. Consequently, I know that I will continue being afraid of peanut butter.

MICKEY HEPNER is an associate professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma.

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