Monday, September 24, 2012

Mapping Food Allergies Across the US

by Kelley Lindberg

A new study published in the July issue of Clinical Pediatrics, “GeographicVariability of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States,” attempts to map the prevalence of food allergies in children across the country. What an interesting idea, and even more interesting results! Dr. Ruchi Gupta, the lead author of the study, says that this study shows for the first time that food allergy rates are higher in denser population areas (like inner cities), and become steadily lower the more rural and sparse the population becomes. The study also reports that the states with the highest rate of food allergy (higher than 9.5 percent) are Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Alaska.
What does this mean? It means we have a lot of new questions to ask, and very few answers. But new questions are good! They add to the clues researchers need as they dig ever deeper into the causes of food allergies.
The data Gupta and her researchers uncovered also contained some surprises and some contradictions. For example, the researchers found that food allergy seemed greater in the southern states than in northern states, but that contradicts earlier studies that suggested greater exposure to sunlight (and therefore vitamin D) might help protect against food allergies. In addition, some of the states with the highest rates are close to water sources – does water affect food allergies?
In an interview in the Fall 2012 issue of Allergic Living magazine, Gupta explains that what this study does is show some intriguing trends, but we don’t have nearly enough information about them to explain the results. For instance, why are southern states higher? But if that’s the case, how do you explain Alaska showing up in the highest seven states? If proximity to bodies of water makes a difference, how does Nevada make it into the top seven? And if population density shows such clear differences in rates, what is causing it? Do people eat different foods in urban settings than they do in rural areas? Is it a difference of environment, rather than food? Education? Hygienic patterns? Something completely different that we haven’t even dreamed up yet?
Intriguing questions, for sure. And questions like these will undoubtedly spawn whole new areas of research, which can bring much-needed information to the table as we try to develop treatments, preventions, and cures for food allergy. And that’s what it’s all about, for those of us in the food allergy community.
Thank you, Dr. Gupta and your fellow researchers, for giving us more questions. Without those questions, we could never hope to find the right answers that may someday make a real difference.

Monday, September 17, 2012

FAAN’s Walk for Food Allergy Is Coming to Salt Lake City!

by Kelley Lindberg

We’re half-way through September, and I can feel the air getting cooler. Nights are downright chilly, the leaves are turning, and my garden is starting to get that almost-done look. After a blazing hot summer, it’s nice to be outside again, right? Maybe take a walk with the kids?

Well, while you’re walking with the kids, wouldn’t it be great to earn some money for food allergy research and education at the same time?

The annual FAAN Walk for Food Allergy in Salt Lake City is rapidly approaching, but there is still plenty of time to sign up – or to donate! Here is what you need to know:

     FAAN Walk for Food Allergy
     Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012
     Sugarhouse Park
     1300 S. 2100 E.
     Salt Lake City, UT 84108

     Check in: 11:00am
     Walk: 12:00 noon
     Distance: 2 miles

There will be lots of fun activities and vendors (some with free samples!) including: face painting, bounce houses, Munchkin Radio, Utah Society of Allergy & Asthma, Utah School Nurses Association, Utah Food Allergy Network, Mylan Pharma (EpiPen), SunButter, and more!

The money earned from the Walk supports FAAN’s (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) invaluable and tireless efforts in food allergy research, advocacy, and education. In addition, by participating, our own UtahFood Allergy Network (UFAN) can apply for a Community Grant from FAAN that we can use to directly benefit our Utah community. Last year’s grant helped us bring in special guest speakers for the Utah Food Allergy Conference in June, and the FAAN school Food Allergy Program purchased for every school district in the state!

The Walk is also a great way to meet other families with food allergies, ask questions, and learn more about food allergies. And there are many opportunities for kids to get to know each other, dance to fun kids’ music with Munchkin Radio, and have a food-free, safe event!

What a great way to spend a beautiful October Saturday. For more information, to sign up for the Walk (as either a team or an individual), or to donate to the Walk, visit the Salt Lake City FAAN Walk website.

If you don’t live in Utah, fear not! Many cities hold FAAN Walks for Food Allergy in September and October, so check FAAN’s website to see if there’s a Walk near you!

See you there!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Presenting Food Allergy Info to Teachers

by Kelley Lindberg

Last week, I gave my annual presentation on food allergies to the teachers at my son’s junior high and to the teachers at his former elementary school. I do this every year, so that all of the teachers are informed and prepared should any child at our schools have an allergic reaction to foods.

I start by telling the teachers how prevalent food allergies are now (the latest studies show 1 out of 13 children has a food allergy). I warn them that not all parents have informed the school of food allergies, but that our school’s food policies and the care and concern of our teachers have managed to keep even those children safe over the years.

Next I explain how serious they are, and I tell them how true food allergies are very different from pollen allergies or from lactose intollerance. Then I talk about common allergens, how to tell if a child is having a reaction, what to do if a child has a reaction, and how to prevent reactions in their classroom.

Finally I hand out EpiPen trainers and let them practice on themselves (and usually each other!).

Because of this training every year, our teachers have a level of awareness that lets me breathe easier. They may not be perfect (who is?), but they become advocates for safety and partners in keeping our food-allergic students healthy.

I give the teachers a handout with the highlights. The presentation generally takes about 20-25 minutes, depending on how many questions they ask. I think it really helps.

Many of you may also be in the same situation, trying to figure out how to educate your children’s teachers. I thought I’d post the handout I use – you can copy and adapt it to your own needs and give it to your teachers. Be sure you add your phone number and email address so they can call you if they have questions. Hope it helps!

Food Allergies

One out of every 13 kids has a severe food allergy. Not everyone has informed the school.
Our school’s safe practices help keep them safe anyway.
Food allergies are very different from pollen allergies and lactose intolerance because:
  • They can cause life-threatening anaphylaxis reactions in minutes
  • Even the smallest exposure – or just skin contact -- can be deadly
These 8 allergens cause 90% of reactions:
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, etc.)
  • Soy
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Wheat
Common Symptoms of a Food Reaction

  • Tingling sensation, itching, or metallic taste in the mouth
  • Hives
  • Sensation of warmth
  • Itching
  • Difficulty breathing and wheezing (asthma symptoms)
  • Swelling of the mouth and throat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Passing out
What to Do If a Reaction Occurs

  1. Call 911.
  2. Give medications if you know how. Usually antihistamine (Benadryl) first, then EpiPen if the child’s condition worsens. But ask parents for an action plan – some kids need EpiPens immediately because of the severity of their reactions.
  3. Call the parent.
  4. Take the child to the emergency room or doctor. EpiPens only last 10-20 minutes.
  5. Keep a close eye on the child for at least 24 hours. Secondary reactions can be just as severe.
How to Prevent Reactions

  1. Remind students to wash hands after lunch. Sanitizer gel does NOT kill allergens.
  2. Remind students that all food and milk stays in the lunchroom. NOT ON PLAYGROUND OR IN CLASSROOMS!
  3. Keep allergic kids’ lunch boxes separate from others, so that food doesn’t spill or smear.
  4. Avoid allergen foods in classrooms – they stay on desks and carpets for a long time.
  5. Check your hand lotion and craft supplies for allergens.
  6. Be strict about no-treats policy. Easy to use non-edible rewards instead.

(Free 1-hour online course for educators on creating a food-allergy-smart school environment.)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day!

by Kelley Lindberg

Labor Day was originally founded to celebrate the contributions that every worker in the U.S. has made to our nation. Originally celebrated with picnics and parades back in the 1880s, the holiday is still a “worker’s holiday.” We may have done away with most of the parades, but we still love our Labor Day picnics! (For a quick history of Labor Day and why we celebrate it, see The History of Labor Day on the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s website.)
So this year, as we feast on allergy-safe treats with friends and family, remember to say “thank you” to everyone who has been working hard over the past year to make the world an easier place to live in for those of us with food allergies. Whether they are volunteers at a FAAN walk, legislators willing to sponsor allergy-related legislation, teachers who go the extra mile for a food-allergic student, volunteers who run food-allergy advocacy and education groups (like our very own Michelle Fogg of UFAN!), medical researchers pursuing treatments and cures, reporters spreading the word, chefs creating food-allergy cookbooks, babysitters who ask how to keep their little charges safe, or even TV script writers who write a line of dialogue that gives a favorite character a food allergy – they all deserve a little recognition and a whole lot of thanks!
And thanks to you, too, for taking time out of your labor-intensive week to read my blog once in a while. You make it fun for me to keep it going.
Now stop working and go enjoy that picnic!