It seems the allergy world is in an uproar after an interview on NPR and an article written by Meredith Broussard published in Harper’s Magazine. She discusses the rise of food allergies and the impact it has on so many aspects, but what has caused such a stir in the food allergy community is that she claims food allergies are not as severe as the media hype and over reactions make them out to be.
At the beginning of her interview, which you can listen to here, she states (inaccurately) that “You have to eat something to have an allergic reaction to it.” Now probably anyone reading this is familiar with food allergies and is well aware of the fact that foods don’t always have to be eaten to cause an allergic reaction. Oils can be picked up off tables or accidentally rubbed in eyes or nose if the person has the food on their hands by accident. Some people are so sensitive that the dust from nuts can cause an airborne reaction.
She also talks about how though there are more milk and dairy allergies than nut allergies, you never see a milk free school but the nation is becoming full of nut free schools and classrooms. This again is incomplete information. Yes, there might be more milk allergies, but nuts contain oils that are easier to contaminate services and again, there is the airborne factor. Unfortunately, it seems she has a lot of pieces of information and as they say, sometimes a little information is worse than no information.
Parents and listeners are in an uproar because as she is downplaying allergies and anaphylaxis there is fear that schools and other places will backtrack to omitting the safety precautions that are now in place. Of course, there are not tons of anaphylactic reactions taking place every day, as Broussard points out, but that is partly due to awareness and caution.
Another point she makes is that not all people with food allergies are anaphylactic. That, however, is an unknown. With food allergies, we don’t know what the next symptoms will be. Someone may only ever get an itchy mouth or the next reaction could be anaphylactic; we just don’t know.
I do think sometimes food allergies are overblown and I do have a child with food allergies. But as I always say, we need the awareness and education and then we can make some sound decisions. If one child is known to have anaphylaxis, we should do all we can for his or her safety. If another is a possible candidate for anaphylaxis, we should do the same. Broussard mentions the small numbers that actually have anaphylaxis or the small numbers that have died from food allergies. Tell that to a parent who watches her child suffering from an allergic reaction. It doesn’t matter if it’s one or one hundred; food allergies are real and can be very dangerous.
– Heather Legg