My daughter suffers from a severe allergy to all tree nuts and peanuts, which as you can imagine has had a major impact on our family life, and is an ongoing worry. Speaking with friends and acquaintances, several families have children diagnosed with allergies, but there are also some who THINK their children are allergic, but have not had this confirmed by a doctor.
As children returned to school at the start of this month, many parents may have been needlessly panicking about food allergies.
For those who suspect their youngster may have a food allergy, leaving them in the care of teachers all day and with school meals is worrying to say the least.
Research shows that as many as 60 per cent of children with supposed allergies, do not actually have them – causing unnecessary anxiety and food avoidance. Now allergy experts are urging parents to take their children to the local GP for a simple food allergy test which will stop all the guessing.
One of five food allergy reactions occur in school, and severe allergy conditions often debut in the school setting. Food allergy affects quality of life and has a major impact on school attendance. Food allergy can cause serious reactions. Most schools have at least one child who is at risk for the anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition. Children with asthma who also have food allergies are especially vulnerable, as they experience the most severe reactions.
Awareness of allergies among school personnel is insufficient and knowledge-based procedures for supporting affected children are often missing. Symptoms of food allergy are often ignored or connected to other causes. Typical symptoms that could indicate a food allergy include eczema, skin rash/itching, swelling around the eyes or lips, stomach ache and digestive problems.
There is currently no other treatment than avoiding the food that causes the allergy. Adjusting to an allergy often means making lifestyle changes which limits the daily life, even causing social problems for children. In a study of the impact of allergies on families, 34% reported that food allergy had an impact on school attendance, with 10% choosing to home school their children because of food allergy.
Allergy is also a source of anxiety for parents, who are unable to assist their children during school hours. School personnel are burdened with managing allergies among pupils, guarding children from exposure to allergens, and ensuring that medications are brought to school and dispensed. However, in many cases parents suspect that their children have allergy when they actually don’t, creating unnecessary anxiety and avoidance of foods, a potential cause of nutritional problems.
Mandy East from the National Allergy Strategy Group said: “Allergy testing as advised by the recently introduced NICE guidelines is an effective way to accurately diagnose food allergies. It is estimated that only 25-40% of self-reported food allergy is confirmed as true food allergy, since food allergy is often confused with food intolerance. Accurate and timely diagnosis is essential for long term management and, if necessary, further referral for specialist care.”
The first guidelines for food allergy in children and young people were issued in early 2011 by NICE, the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence. These recommend routine use of allergy tests in NHS primary care and community settings, including schools, to confirm suspected food allergy. A routine blood test can easily be provided by GP practices. This not only gives indications about children’s allergies and leads the way to effective guidance on what can be eaten and what should be avoided. A blood test also helps rule out suspected allergies, making life easier for many children and their families.
Many children will outgrow their allergies, while other may not, possibly developing other symptoms and grow into new allergies. Without regular re-evaluation of allergy, food avoidance is often applied for too long. Dr Allison Worth from the Allergy and Respiratory Research Group, university of Edinburgh said: “Proper diagnosis of food allergy is important in children, because if confirmed, it allows avoidance of the food allergen and effective management of the allergy.
“Equally important, if food allergy is not identified, it allows the child to eat a more normal diet and reduces parents’ worries about the child eating socially and at school, resulting in a better quality of life for the child and their family.”
The Task Force on the Allergic Child at School (TACS), has devised a comprehensive, science-based set of guidelines for managing allergies among schoolchildren. A key element of the TACS recommendations is that no children should be stigmatized as a result of their allergy, and that they should be able to participate in all school activities to the same extent as their peers. Schools should also enquire about allergic disease at the registration of new pupils, and allergy management plans be obtained from doctors. The school should ensure that there is a system in place for identifying food allergies in children.