Kids with allergies can die in school

Like many other parents of kids with allergies, I was very dismayed to see this article, titled, Allergic boy, 7, suffers two heart attacks after teacher hands him chocolate nut in class, last week.   It seems a boy of 7 was accidentally given a chocolate candy containing a hazelnut, to which he is allergic.  After biting into the candy, he realized immediately that he shouldn’t have it and spit it out.  Despite quick treatment with an EpiPen after symptoms started, he ended up in pretty bad shape on life support after suffering a couple of cardiac arrests.

I read with interest the comments that the public left on that article.  As I’ve seen before with other peanut allergy articles (namely those that discuss banning peanuts on airplanes), this issue was very polarizing.  The teacher and child were equally blamed.  People even blamed the mother, who wasn’t even there until right afterward and did exactly what she was supposed to do.

I am almost positive that I would be one of those people saying, “What’s the big deal?  Just don’t eat peanuts” if peanut allergies didn’t affect my life in a huge way – my 4 year old son is severely allergic to peanuts.  He’s had 3 exposures, all accidental.  The last one saw us end up in the Emergency Room needing IV’s, oxygen, and several medications to treat his anaphylactic reaction.

I wanted to take the opportunity to respond to some of the comments I often read and hear.

“Honestly, 7-years-old is old enough to know what products may contain harmful ingredients and his parents should not expect the Big Brother state will always be there to watch over him.”

Yes, a 7 year old boy is probably old enough to know better.  Even my 4 year old knows that he’s allergic to peanuts and needs to avoid them.  But think about it.  The boy is seven.  Who would bet money on a 7 year old having 100% impeccable judgment at all times?  I wouldn’t.  So while they may be aware of their allergy and “know better,” the fact remains that they are just too young to be trusted 100% of the time.  It’s a dichotomy that society as a whole can’t quite agree on and we can’t have it both ways.  Some say that a child of that age should be completely in control of this life-threatening allergy, yet I have heard first-hand about the police being called because a child of the same age was left alone in a locked car while the mom went into the store for a few minutes!

As for not expecting the “Big Brother state to watch over him?”  I would absolutely expect him to be watched over while he was at school!

There are stories about people in their teens who have lived with the same allergy all of their lives die from a reaction.

Some people commented that teachers already have enough on their plate, why do they need to deal with what kid has what allergy?

Because these allergies can be life-threatening, that’s why.  I’m not going to be talking to my son’s kindergarten teacher in the fall to warn her that he might get a tummy ache if he accidentally eats some peanut.  In reality, he might actually die. We send our children to school with the fervent hope that the teachers and staff there will keep them safe.   In reading several online message boards and articles, I have often seen this analogy:  Sending a kid to school or another child’s house where peanuts (or other allergens) are freely available is just like leaving a loaded gun out on the table.

Kids are by nature extremely curious and often want exactly that which they cannot have.  It seems like a dramatic analogy, but the end result is the same as far as I’m concerned.  Playing with a loaded gun or playing with a peanut can leave my child maimed or dead.

It isn’t only peanuts, by the way.  Kids are having anaphylactic reactions to dairy, eggs, and wheat.  Some kids are so sensitive that mere residue left on a toy from someone having eaten a cheddar cracker can send them to the hospital with a reaction.

Most allergic kids have quick access to an Epipen in case of a reaction.  These are not a cure.  For one, they have to be given before the reaction progresses too far otherwise they don’t help.  For another, they only buy you time to get to an Emergency Department.  No one stabs themselves with an Epipen and then thinks, “Whew!  Glad that’s over then!”  It’s not.

I have read some other “helpful” advice: “Just desensitize the child – give them a bunch of eggs, peanuts, milk and they’ll stop reacting to it.”  This is like telling someone allergic to bee stings to put themselves into a locked room with a bunch of bees.  It’s ridiculous.  There are desensitization clinical trials happening around the country, but the amounts they start with are incredibly minute and are given under extremely controlled conditions with emergency equipment immediately available.  People in these experiments have had reactions to a few grains of peanut dust.  It’s just not something you do at home on a Saturday afternoon.

When I was a kid in school, we usually got treats on someone’s birthday:  homemade cookies, store-bought candies.  Doing this now is like walking through a minefield.  So many kids have allergies to so many different foods these days, you’d never find a product that everyone could eat. Why not cut treats out altogether at school?  Provide the children with stickers, coloring books, pencils, little trinkets.  Or at the very least talk to the teacher and make sure you provide a food that everyone in the class can enjoy.

Most importantly, keep this in mind: no parent asked for this.  No pregnant woman ever daydreamed that her daughter would have blue eyes and a life-threatening reaction to eating a peanut.  No expectant father ever hoped that his son would enjoy playing catch and stop breathing after eating an egg.

So when you read about people trying to ban peanuts on planes (and I have never been so amazed as I was while reading comments from people who were adamant against giving up their God given right to eat peanuts at 30,000 feet in the air) or if you get a note sent home from school asking you not to include certain products in your child’s lunchbox, go ahead and be annoyed.  Then take a minute to realize that we are just trying to keep our children alive.  Yes, alive.  It’s truly not just a tummy ache that we’re dealing with here.

“Gina” is an intensive care nurse who blogs at code blog – tales of a nurse.

 

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