School lunch fare can present dangers to children with food allergies

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, along with other lunchbox staples, can turn life-threatening for children with food allergies. Yet many parents are unaware that 8 percent of kids have a food allergy, and that more than 15 percent of those children will have an allergic reaction while at school.

Knowing what to watch for and how to react can help make schools safer, said Dr. John “Drew” Bird, a UT Southwestern Medical Center pediatrician who specializes in food allergies. In Texas, new guidelines also serve as a resource for dealing with food allergies.

Dr. Bird, who also is clinical director of the Food Allergy Center at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, says just smelling or touching a food can trigger a reaction in an allergic child. “The most serious and potentially life-threatening reactions are most likely to occur if the allergen has been ingested. Physical contact with the allergen most often leads to a hive,” he said.

Families must be vigilant whenever their allergic child is around food.  Eating in restaurants, at school, or at a friend’s house also can present dilemmas in making the right choice and ensuring the food the child is eating is not contaminated with an allergen.

Dr. Bird says that because of the difficulty in predicting when and where a reaction will occur, all individuals with food allergies or their caregivers should carry two doses of auto-injectable epinephrine with them at all times.

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