|By Starrla Cray, Staff Writer
When it comes to food allergies, local school, church, and daycare professionals say “better safe than sorry.”
“You don’t want to take a chance with it,” said Jolie Holland, who serves as nurse for District 2687 (Humphrey Elementary, Winsted Elementary, Holy Trinity School, St. James Lutheran School, Students Transitioning in Educational Programming (STEP), and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted middle and high school).
“We have 30 students with severe life-threatening food/bee sting allergies between the six schools,” Holland noted.
Allergies can be tricky to predict at times.
“One student was allergic to a special type of breading in the chicken, and we’ve had kids who are allergic to corn,” Holland said. “If we started to ban every kind of food allergy, that’d be a lot of foods.”
Some students do, however, have a separate lunch table to protect them from allergens.
“We have a special protocol for wiping down the table,” Holland said.
School staff are well-trained on the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, and some students carry the devices with them.
Commonly known by the brand name, EpiPen, these medical devices are used to deliver epinephrine (adrenaline) to treat life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis).
“We take all allergies seriously, because you don’t know when it might progress,” Holland said.
Fortunately, Holland has never had an allergy progress to a point where 911 emergency help was necessary.
“We’re very careful, and we try to manage and recognize it,” she said. “I try to treat every child as if they were my own. I think about what I would want done if it were my family.”
Childcare centers also take allergy precautions.
“We are trained in using EpiPens,” said Erin Norstedt, assistant director of Lil’ Explorers Childcare Center in Delano.
At Lil’ Explorers, students with allergies have their picture in snack areas and the kitchen, next to a picture of the allergy. That way, staff can easily identify the foods that students are not allowed to eat.
For lunches, Norstedt said the center avoids peanuts and other common allergens.
“It’s a small price to pay for healthy kids,” she said.
If a student is interested in bringing a birthday treat to class, the items must be store-bought. Parents often ask ahead of time about allergies in the classroom.
Many churches also take measures to guard against allergy issues.
New Life Assembly of God in Cokato, for example, has an EpiPen in its first-aid kit, but hasn’t needed to use it.
“Being proactive about it is one of our greatest assets,” said pastor Al Jones.
For vacation Bible school, the release form has a spot for parents to indicate any allergy information or special diet needs. Church meals are also accommodating, with desserts that are labeled, and a variety of food choices.
The Mayo Clinic states that 6 to 8 percent of children under age 5, and about 3 to 4 percent of adults, suffer from a food allergy.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, most children outgrow cow’s milk, egg, soy and wheat allergies, even if they have a history of a severe reaction. Similarly, about 20 percent of children with a peanut allergy will outgrow it, and about 9 percent outgrow tree nut allergies.
Food allergies are often confused with a much more common reaction known as food intolerance, according to the Mayo Clinic. Food intolerances often cause similar symptoms, such as cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.
With some food intolerances, people may be able to eat small amounts of problem foods without a reaction, whereas a true food allergy will cause a reaction even in tiny amounts.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology states that food-related issues can also be caused from:
• sensitivity to food additives
• food poisoning
• celiac disease
• absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food
• recurring stress or psychological factors