Next week is Food Allergy Awareness Week in the United States. Started in 1997 by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), food allergy awareness week is now well recognized within the food allergy community as a time to educate and spread the word about food allergies.
It seems that every month lately there is a new controversy on the topic of food allergies. Reporters have questioned whether food allergies are real. A chef admitted to having served unsafe food to guests with food allergens. Parents are protesting the measures put in place in a classroom to protect a child with food allergies.
And there were losses. Most notable was the tragic death of a Chicago seventh-grader who died after eating food served at a school event. While the number of deaths from food-allergic reactions each year is small (estimated at between 100 and 200 per year), each one is one too many. Each one could have been prevented. It starts with awareness.
As a food allergy mom, this is what I want everyone to know about food allergies:
Food allergy is a disease you can’t see. A child with a physical disability is usually easy to spot, and most of us are willing to hold the door open for him. The child with food allergies does not appear to have a disability, and that makes it too easy to dismiss.
Not all food allergies are the same. Some result in anaphylaxis (the most serious life-threatening reaction) while others result in vomiting, skin rashes, gastro-intestinal problems, and other symptoms.
No one wants to have food allergies. No child wants to sit at the food allergy table, or miss out on cupcakes in the classroom. No parent wishes that for his or her child.
While not curable (at least not yet) illness from food allergy is entirely preventable – by completely avoiding the foods that cause the reaction.
Accommodation is the law. Food allergy is considered a disability under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; schools must accommodate the needs of those with food allergies.
A recent study by Mount Sinai has shown that 35 percent of children with food allergies have been bullied, teased, or harassed about their illness. Another study by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) has shown that food allergies can be isolating, impacting quality of life.
This year during food allergy awareness week, I applaud all of the parents out there who take an extra step to make sure that a food-allergic child is safe and included. Whether it’s baking the treat without a food-allergen, not sending peanut butter sandwiches to school, or calling the parent of a food-allergic child to make sure they can safely attend a sleepover, every little bit helps. Thank you!