School nurses urge caution with food allergies

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO – One of the most common allergy-inducing foods is peanuts.

Several health agencies, including the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have noticed a trend of more food allergy diagnoses in recent decades.

Children are more likely than adults to suffer from such conditions, and school nurses are on the front lines of keeping students safe which includes ensuring students with allergies are not exposed to reaction-inducing foods and drinks.

“Our school is a peanut-free school,” said Green Mountain-Garwin district nurse Amy Hernandez.

She said she agrees with the nationwide data showing increased food allergy diagnoses. Before starting at GMG, Hernandez was a hospital nurse for 11 years and said tree nuts, like walnuts and almonds, seemed to be behind a lot of reactions she has seen.

West Marshall district nurse Sarah Stone said that district is not peanut-free, but foods containing peanuts or processed in the same plant as peanuts are restricted to classrooms with no children who are allergic.

“We provide a list to the parents at the beginning of the year with every classroom that has a peanut allergy in it,” Stone said.

Other precautions include giving kids with certain food allergies a separate table in the lunch room and providing sunflower seed butter as an alternative option to peanut butter during lunch.

Prior to becoming a school nurse, Stone worked in intensive and acute medical care units. Both women said they have not seen a severe allergic reaction in their respective schools yet.

Hernandez credited GMG’s precautions for the lack of dangerous allergic reactions, but said she saw children with anaphylaxis – a severe physical reaction – in her time at the hospital.

Stone said another type of bad allergic reaction called eosinophilic esophagitis has been on the rise. The condition inflames the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach.

“That’s a newer diagnosis that across the board that school nurses are seeing,” Stone said.

More common and milder reactions the nurses said they see include rashes, itching, naseau and vomiting. Stone said the most common food allergy sources she sees at West Marshall come from peanuts, shellfish and eggs.

There is no cure for food allergies, so the best way for people who have them is to avoid allergens according to the CDC.

Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) information shows about 15 million Americans have food allergies, and one of every 13 children has such a condition.

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