November 14, 2012

Feeding Food-Allergy Anxiety

Posted in Anxiety, Food Allergy, Schools at 1:22 pm by 1ElleofaWoman

According to recent media reports, a woman in Ontario is petitioning to have oak trees near a school  removed because someone *might* have a reaction.  Apparently, no one in the school has an acorn allergy.  But someone, someday, might have one.  Both the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (AAAI) and the Food Allergy and Anaphalaxis Network agree that there is no risk of a reaction from contact with an acorn.  They are not in the same family as tree nuts (almond, walnut, hickory, pecan, cashew) and are thus those with nut allergies are not likely to be allergic to acorns.  (By the way, AAAI says chestnuts are related to acorns, so no need to panic when chestnuts are roasting by an open fire.)

I cringe when I read stories like this.  Children with food allergies and their parents have enough trouble dealing with food allergies;  they do not need the backlash that comes with stories like this.  When people hear about unreasonable demands, they often argue against requests that are reasonable. Those who require real accommodations suffer.

The article quotes the mom: “The acorns are not only presenting a risk to the tree nut-allergic students but it is also becoming a great cause of anxiety among all students with nut allergies.” I wonder if the students have anxiety or if adults are giving them the anxiety.  As stated above, two professional organizations both agree that allergies to nuts does not mean an allergy to acorns, and AAAI further asserts that if you did have an allergy to acorns, you would have to eat it to have a reaction.  With food allergies on the rise — the CDC has reported that hospitalizations due to allergies has increased in recent years –if acorns were a concern, I would expect this to have become an issue by now. Rather than lobby to cut down the trees, wouldn’t it be better to discuss this with your children and let them know that an acorn poses no risk? They wouldn’t have anxiety and they would be able to appreciate the beautiful trees at school.

If there were a  child at the school who had an acorn allergy who was young and therefor might put an acorn in her mouth, than an argument might be made to get rid of the tree.  But to cut down trees “just in case” someone comes along who may have an allergy makes no sense.

When my daughter was in first grade she had less anxiety after she sat at the same table with people eating peanut butter sandwiches then she did when she was at the peanut-free table.  Peanut butter is a threat to her but fear doesn’t consume her   She can be near it and be ok. Peanut proteins were not lurking around every corner gunning for her.

Last week, my daughter, her Girl Scout troop and I were helping at a local school that temporarily became a food pantry because of superstorm Sandy. One of the volunteers suggested we help make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I said no thank you and instead we went into another room and helped to sort the nonperishable foods.  At one point, my daughter became a little nervous because she noticed a large stack of peanut butter jars. I told her it they were in packages and couldn’t hurt her, then told  her to sort the cereals. She was fine. Had I reacted differently (OMG! Peanut butter in the building get out!  or Get away from those jars now! Get out of the room! Now!), then so would have my daughter.

The first situation did pose a threat to my daughter — contact with peanut butter could lead to a rash; worse, if she were to get peanut butter on her hand and then touch her eyes or mouth she could experience an anaphaltyic reaction. But we moved into another room and we were fine.  Had I seen rogue sandwich makers running around the halls smearing peanut butter everywhere I would have made another call.  But we stayed out of the kitchen and helped out on three different days with no ill effects.

The second situation posed no threat to my daughter.  The jars were closed. My daughter’s concern was because it was such a large amount of peanut butter and, since peanut butter was never a staple in her home, she didn’t expect it to be a popular item.

I think my responses were reasonable and I think my daughter acts reasonably as well. And she also reacts reasonably around acorns.

I would hope that parents would want to teach to teach their children rational responses to situations their allergies may force them into and not to develop anxiety.  The mom from Ontario wrote in her request to appear before the committee that acorns “can also be used to bully and torment children.”  Perhaps the parents can teach their children there is nothing to fear about acorns. You can’t be bullied by something you are not afraid of.

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1 Comment

  1. lmarea3070 said,

    Before you know it they’ll be replacing the grass with sand.


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