By Heather Legg
A recent article in Time magazine, Have Americans Gone Nuts Over Nut Allergies, discusses some of the recent behaviors in regard to nut allergies that have taken place around the country. Some of the incidents mentioned are the felling of Hickory trees because they leaned over the yard of a grandmother with a nut allergic child and the evacuation of a school bus because a lone peanut was spotted. I have a daughter with a nut allergy and I think these behaviors fall far into the extreme category.
The article can be read here, and it is worth taking a look at. One point I find very interesting is the fact that nut allergies have risen 17% from 1997 to 2007. That is huge! And there is some explanation for that in this piece: not only is the hygiene theory discussed (we keep our kids to clean and away from too many allergens for too long) but also the fact of diagnosis. More and more kids are going through allergy testing, therefore, even those with a less severe reaction are diagnosed, whereas a few decades ago, their allergy would have gone unnoticed. “You have to distinguish between an epidemic of diagnoses and an epidemic of allergies,” says Harvard professor Dr. Nicholas Christakis in the article.
Also, what is realistic and what is not is discussed. Sure, it makes sense to ban or at least monitor peanut butter in preschools, where kids are messy and tend to touch everything and put hands in mouths. But is it viable to continue peanut free zones in older children’s schools? According to this excerpt from the article, Dr. Robert Wood, chief of the Pediatric Allergy and Immunology department at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center reports that:
Despite the occasional cases of nut over-precaution, Wood thinks the public generally approaches the allergy risk with common sense. “There are definitely situations where we see a fear of the allergy that develops far out of proportion to the true risk, but for the vast majority of schools, things are mostly on balance and in perspective,” says Wood, who treats some 2,000 allergy patients. Further, he says, it’s important to recognize that the appropriate protective measure depends on the age group in question. “We recommend very different approaches between an early preschooler and a late-elementary schooler,” he says. “We view preschool children as being at true risk — sharing food, having messy hands. There are many reactions that occur from those kinds of exposures,” he says. “I think that having peanut-free preschools is a totally reasonable, justifiable thing to do.” For children in the fourth or fifth grade, however, he says minor precautions like specialized seating arrangements in the cafeteria are probably unnecessary.
Read the article, it’s a good one. You may even want to look at some of the various comments listed on sites regarding it, some agree, some fear that pieces like this will make it even more difficult to protect those kids with severe allergies.