There’s a whole lot more than just a bit of sneezing and itching when it comes to food allergies. Indeed, it’s serious business that can cause such severe symptoms as wheezing and anaphylaxis—a potentially life-threatening reaction–in 40% of afflicted children. Plus, it’s increased in occurrence by 18% in just ten years.
So what are the most common food allergens? Here they are in order of prevalence:
4. Tree nuts
6. Fin fish
Yes, peanuts are the #1 trigger, affecting 2% of all kids who must contend with the fact the average child eats 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time they graduate from high school. Moreover, Americans spent almost $800 million every year on peanut butter alone. No wonder, then, that January 24th is National Peanut Butter Day. And as if that’s not enough, November is Peanut Butter Lovers Month.
To make matters even worse for peanut allergy sufferers, peanuts account for 2/3 of all the snack nuts we Americans eat. Plus, five of the top ten selling candy bars contain either peanuts or peanut butter: Snickers, O’Henry, Baby Ruth, Butterfingers, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Not surprisingly, then, some of our Montgomery County schools are peanut-free zones or, at the very least, isolate their pb & j sandwich eaters in the back of the cafeteria or relegate peanut allergy sufferers to “peanut free” tables like Methacton’s Woodland Elementary. Some, like the Wissahickon School District, also provide parents with lists of “safe” snacks.
Meanwhile, kudos to Montgomery County’s State Representative Thomas Murt whose efforts were instrumental in the ultimate passage of House Bill 1148 creating, among other things, state standards when it comes to schools and peanut allergies. As a result, the Pennsylvania Department of Education now offers online guides and resources for parents, teachers, and school administrators to help them handle students with peanut and other food allergies.
Says Representative Murt, “Peanut allergies are a serious, potentially deadly problem. Passing legislation to require schools to develop guidelines was only the first step in dealing with the issue . . .”
And to help educate all children about the gravity of peanut allergies comes Sue Ganz-Schmitt’s The Princess and the Peanut: A Royally Allergic Fairytale. Its plot centers on a prince’s search for the perfect princess and a maiden who, caught in a storm, happens upon his castle, rings the bell, and ends up spending the night. Slipped between her two mattresses is a peanut—no peas in sight.
The result is an alarming anaphylactic reaction, complete with difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling. It takes an epinephrine injection to save the day and ultimately, prince and maiden live happily ever after. There’s more, of course, to this instructive cautionary tale, all of which promotes awareness and sensitivity.
Meanwhile, there is some good news out there for kids with food allergies. The Molis food desensitization program introduces microscopic doses of the allergen, thus gradually building up a tolerance. In the case of peanuts, the first doses are made up of peanut flour mixed into Kool-Aid. Says Dr. Molis, “This is very exciting because this is the first time we’ve had anything to treat these patients with vs. just avoidance.”
Now that’s cause for celebration . . .