Monday, June 27, 2011

Food Allergy Tables at School

by Kelley Lindberg

A frequent question I get from parents of kids just about to enter first grade is “What do we do about school lunch?” One solution that has worked for my son is an “allergy table” in the school cafeteria. I’ve written about this before, but since it’s a perennial question – and an important one – I thought I’d write about it again.

My sixth-grade son has eaten at an "allergy table" since first grade. What's made it great is that his best friend also has allergies, so they both sit at the table together. When the best friend is on vacation or sick, there's another friend whose mom I can call and ask if she'll send a safe lunch with her daughter so her daughter can sit with him. (My son, his allergic best friend, and the non-allergic girl have all been best buds since they were babies.)

I worried about the isolation, but that's never been a problem with him. His friends understand the allergies, and they've never (so far as I know) made any big deal about him sitting apart from them. They all seem to know it's just so he's safe, not that he's anti-social. He has tons of good buddies that he plays with as soon as he's done eating, so no one seems to care that he's not sitting with them for the "food" part of the lunchtime. In fact, the friends sit at the closest “regular” table, so they turn around and talk to each other while eating, anyway.

Here's what's interesting: my son and his allergic buddy are so attached to their table, they've always kind of felt like it was their "club" and anyone who brought a safe lunch to sit with them was cool. Other allergy kids have also sat at the table through the years, so it's been a safe haven for them all.

They've been doing this for 6 years now, and even though they're old enough to try sitting with their trusted friends at another table, they actually aren't interested in doing that.

In fact, my son's friend was out of town for a week last November. So I asked my son if he'd like to try sitting next to some trusted friends at a non-allergy table while his best pal was gone. He said yeah, so we talked about who he would sit with, and that if he didn't feel safe, he could always go back to the allergy table.

The first day, he came home and said it was great, he had a blast with his friends, and everything went well. The next day, he went back to sitting at his allergy table by himself. I asked him why, and he said it was faster (he didn't have to wait for his friends while they stood in line) and he didn't have to worry about anything. So for him, it was just easier and more efficient to have his own table, and it reduced the stress of something unfamiliar, even though there hadn't been any problem the day before.

He wolfs down his food in minutes and hits the playground with his buddies fast anyway, so the eating part is really the least important part of lunch, he says.

I think both boys have really come to rely on the safety of that table. It eliminates all stress from the eating part of the day, and because they have each other, they don't feel isolated. But even when they're not together at the table, they don't seem to feel isolated, because their other buddies still like them and play with them.

So.... this is a long way of saying that the lunch table may look isolating to us grown-ups, but it might NOT feel that way to your child. If you’re contemplating asking your school if your child can sit at an allergy table, I think the main thing is to find a friend or two or three who would be willing to bring a "safe" lunch to school once or twice a week to sit with him/her. Maybe you could talk to the moms, explain the situation, and see if their kid would be willing to be your child's lunch buddy on Mondays, for example. And find another one for Tuesday, etc.

Change is always difficult, and the transition to all-day school is always scary, but it might not be as bad as you think. I guess a lot of it is just in the mental preparation and how you approach it. My son and his friend approach it like a "club" and they've had friends over the years who've asked if they could bring a safe lunch to sit with them. That's pretty special, not isolating.

As for the logistical details – the lunch staff uses signs to designate the allergy table, and they use a separate bucket of cleaning solution and separate rag just for this table. The boys actually sit at a split table -- one side of it is nut-free, and the other side is nut- and milk-free (also egg-free, but we find that eliminating milk eliminates most egg-containing products, too). The split table is because there are nut-allergic kids who get school lunch and drink milk, so they need a safe place, too. And they tend to be VERY careful with all food, knowing that the kids at the other side of the table are allergic to different foods. It's worked fine, and they've never had a problem (knock on wood). So I made two signs, one that says “No Nuts or Peanuts” and one that says “No Nuts or Milk.” I print the signs on card stock, then laminate them. Then the cafeteria staff tapes each sign to the appropriate side of the table, and they stay there.

The boys also know if someone tries to sit at the table with unsafe foods, they can either explain the situation to the confused kid, or go get a lunchroom staff member to remove the kid. It’s worked well for six years.

So if you’re contemplating an allergy table at your child’s school, I hope our positive experience helps. But remember that there are a lot of other parents and kids who’ve chosen NOT to sit at an allergy table, and they’ve had great success, too. So it’s really up to what you and your child want and feel comfortable with. Let your own comfort level be your guide.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Latest Study on Allergies and Allergy Testing

by Kelley Lindberg

Last month, a new study on allergy testing from Quest Diagnostics, manufacturer of the ImmunoCAP® IgE blood test for allergy diagnostic testing, was released. Quest Diagnostics used its access to the largest national database of allergy blood test results – with results from two million patient encounters – to analyze the effect of allergies on the health of Americans. The 4-year study didn’t measure the prevalence of allergies in the general population (plenty of other studies have done that). Instead, it looked at people who were already suspected of having allergies (both food and environmental allergies), in an effort to see how allergies are changing or affecting the allergic population.

Some of the study’s key findings include:
  • The overall sensitization rate (patients having an allergen-specific IgE) increased by 5.8% over 4 years.
  • The number of patients tested for allergies increased over those 4 years by 19%, which Quest says is significantly faster than the growth in general laboratory testing.
  • Sensitization to ragweed and mold is increasing rapidly, which is consistent with other studies that show climate change may be linked to an increase in environmental allergies (because of the change in growing habits of plants, for example).
  • Men showed higher sensitization rates than women.
  • Children showed higher sensitization rates than adults.
  • Peanuts were the most common food allergen in kids who were tested for food allergies, with 30% of the kids under 5 years of age and nearly 25% of the kids from 6 to 18 testing positive for peanut.
  • Patients with asthma have more allergies (averaging 4.1 allergens per person) than patients without asthma (averaging 3.4 allergens).
Another interesting part of the study is that it confirms the “Allergy March,” which shows a disease progression where children with sensitivities often develop different allergic diseases as they mature, for example: moving from a single food allergy in childhood, to environmental allergies, to asthma.

In most cases, this study seems to be confirming what we already know or at last suspected about allergies and allergy testing from smaller studies. This study is significant, however, because of the sheer size of the patient base, and the fact that it used blood tests rather than patient-response surveys for its data.

To read the complete study and learn more about its findings, click Quest Diagnostics Health Trends Allergy Report 2011, “Allergies Across America.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

Emergency Kits and Food Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

It’s been a bad year for natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, tornadoes, wildfires, flooding… and we’re just barely starting hurricane season.

Until we’ve lived through one, it’s hard to imagine what we’d do in a natural disaster. But it’s safe to say that thinking calmly and rationally might not be our first reaction – at least for most of us! (Okay, at least for me.) What if you only had a few minutes to throw things into a suitcase and escape? What if you don’t even have that much time?

Every time I see a news report talking about people being evacuated to a shelter, I worry about the people arriving who have food allergies. I doubt the shelters are equipped to handle people with food allergies – especially multiple food allergies. Perhaps they are – maybe they have meals set aside for people allergic to gluten, milk, eggs, and nuts, for example. But more likely, they’re making do with whatever they have on hand, and the cross-contamination alone must be a constant threat.

That’s why experts say it’s important to prepare an emergency evacuation kit before there’s a natural disaster, so that you don’t forget something vital, like medications, phone numbers, safe food, and cash.

There are lots of websites you can visit to find recommendations on how to pack an emergency kit, such as:
But one thing these sites might not mention is to pack essentials for your food allergic family member. So when you’re assembling an emergency kit, remember to pack:
  • EpiPens (or TwinJect)
  • Antihistamine (Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, etc.)
  • Safe food (Sunbutter, gluten-free crackers, beef jerky, or whatever will sustain you for 3 days)
  • Copy of your medical insurance card
  • Phone numbers of important people, including relatives and doctors
If you’ve got these things with you, at least you’ll have one less thing to worry about. One emergency at a time is enough.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Plan to Attend the Free UFAN Food Allergy Conference

by Kelley Lindberg

Have you registered yet for the first annual Utah Food Allergy Conference? It’s going to be held on Saturday, June 25, 2011 at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, in the Doty Family Education Center (5121 South Cottonwood Street, Murray, Utah).

And it’s free!

Hosted by the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN), the one-day conference will be the first in Utah to focus entirely on food allergies. You’ll hear from a truly impressive line-up of local and national speakers:
  • Richard Hendershot, MD, president of the Utah Society of Allergy & Asthma
  • Eleanor Garrow, VP of Education and Outreach for FAAN (the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network)
  • Gina Clowes, from AllergyMoms
  • Sharlene Coombs, Registered Dietician
  • Jan Bernhisel-Broadbent, MD, allergist
  • Molly O’Gorman, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist
  • Kathryn Peterson, MD, adult gastroenterologist
The conference runs from 9:00am – 1:00pm, and includes a Q&A session at the end. You won’t want to miss this event.

The conference is already filling up fast, so don’t wait to register.

Go to UFAN's website at for more information and to register online. Do it now, while you’re thinking about it!

We’ll also be announcing our first annual UFAN Excellence Awards at the conference to recognize people who’ve made a difference for the food-allergic community in Utah. Know someone who deserves an award? Nominate them by June 10th clicking the UFAN Excellence Awards 2011 Nomination Form here.

See you there!