September 14, 2011

Sniffing for an answer

Posted in Food Allergy tagged at 5:59 pm by 1ElleofaWoman

It’s been a long while since I have posted. Recently, I have been urging myself to work on the blog, but I couldn’t think of what to write.  Then I read an article about a $20,000 allergy-sniffing dog which tells the story of a five-year-old girl with food allergies who now has a service dog. That got me motivated.

Allergy-sniffing dogs are said to be able to detect small amounts of an allergen and allow those with allergies to be confident that what they eat or what they touch is safe.  A friend of mine has wondered if these dogs work. As far as I know, there are no scientific studies regarding the use of allergy dogs. I am a big dog lover, however, and have spent lots of time watching Dogs 101  learning about the feats dogs are capable of, so I will give the canines the benefit of the doubt.

But assuming Fido can detect allergens, a question still remains: Are they necessary? Wouldn’t being vigilant, reading labels etc. be enough? My daughter has a peanut allergy, which is relatively simple to manage these days now that more people are aware and educated. But I know many people whose children have multiple allergies and all of us have done reasonably well without the use of dogs.

What is the benefit of an allergy dog? Of all the reports that I have read about death from food allergies — which are rare — the death occurred because the food-allergic person did not have epinephrine.  If someone doesn’t think they need to carry  epinephrine, they certainly wouldn’t have a service dog. So I doubt that allergy dogs would have any impact on mortality rates. There is a possibility that it could reduce the number of ER visits (50,000 a year, is an often-cited number), but again, there is no research to support this.

The mother’s behavior as described in the article gives me pause and makes me question if the dog is for the child or her mother. The mother gives her daughter “beads of courage” for “surmounting major obstacles, ” such as E.R. visits, days she was confined to her house due to asthma and the number of breathing treatments. What mother gives her child a constant reminder of exactly  how many times she has been sick or in the hospital?

This also begs the question why is breathing treatment considered a major obstacle? During a breathing treatment, a nebulizer (“breathing machine”) creates a medicated mist that the patient breathes in.  Sure, treatments may not be fun and keep you confined to one spot for 10-30 minutes, depending on the amount of medication, but they are not traumatic or a “major obstacle.”  At least they shouldn’t be.  My daughter often watches TV  or reads when she gets a treatment. When she was young, she would color, watch TV or I would read to her.  If she needed a treatment in the middle of the night, I would often do it without even waking her. I kept track of the treatments so I could report back to the doctor and also so I could gauge if they were working, but I don’t have a lifetime count.  These “beads of courage” would be akin to a diabetic’s mom giving a bead with each insulin shot or an epileptic’s mom giving a bead for every seizure.

This mother’s hyper focus on the daughter’s illness, almost a celebration of sorts, reinforces to the daughter just how sick she is and how confined she is, which I find very sad. I find it difficult to take this woman seriously.

Like many typical media stories, this one is full of melodrama. It overly dramatizes food allergies to the point of ridiculousness. The article mentions an anaphylactic episode that landed  the girl in the emergency room where “Down the hall, a little boy who had choked on a hot dog was dying. As Kate inched toward recovery, Ann could hear the dying boy’s mother screaming his name.”  My heart goes out to any parent who loses a child, but what, exactly, does that have to do with food allergies?

According to the article, most of the $20,000 was paid for through fundraising and a grant.  Wouldn’t that money and time be better spent on education?  This money could be used to educate restaurants, schools and families about food allergies and cross contamination, so we don’t have another death, like the student from  Chicago on our hands.

The end of the article speaks for itself and perhaps answers some of the questions I have posed.  The mother admits that the dog has shown her that allergens are not everywhere as she had thought. But “It’s definitely given me a different level of peace.”

For $20,000, I should hope so.

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