The number of children with food allergies appears to be increasing, concludes a study released this month.
The study—conducted by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a Fairfax, Va.-based nonprofit organization that represents people who have food allergies—surveyed 400 school nurses nationwide and found that 44 percent reported an increase in the number of children with food allergies in their schools over the past five years.
“School nurses certainly understand how serious food allergies can be,” said Terry Furlong, the organization’s chief operating officer.
Because there is no cure for food allergies, experts say that schools need to be better prepared to handle students who are at risk for severe reactions.
The study found that 78 percent of school nurses reported that their schools provided staff training on food allergies.
It also found that 88 percent of respondents said that teachers with students who had food allergies had received staff training on how to deal with such allergies. However, only 40 percent of the school nurses said that all teachers received training.
Food allergies are caused when the immune system mistakes proteins in food for harmful foreign bodies and releases chemicals such as histamines that can cause mild to severe reactions. Symptoms include hives, swelling of the lips, tongue, and mouth, abdominal cramps, coughing, and erratic heartbeat.
Nearly 11 million Americans have food allergies and 6 percent to 8 percent of those people are children under the age of 18, according to estimates from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.
Severe reactions to food allergies account for roughly 30,000 emergency room visits and 150 to 200 deaths annually, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2000.