Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Food Allergies, Our Village, and Why It's Important

Last weekend I attended the FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) National Food Allergy Conference. As I sat in the conference room for one of the sessions typing away notes, I heard and saw a statistic on the screen that shocked me in my seat.

25% of anaphylactic allergic reactions in schools occur in people - both students and staff - who have never had a history or presented symptoms of a food allergy prior to the reaction.

25% - that's a quarter of all in-school anaphylactic reactions. I thought of a couple of friends I have that developed dairy and kiwi allergies in adulthood - in their mid/late 30's. I could picture in my mind a child playing in the playground, taking a bite of peanut butter or a handful of nuts that had never given them an issue before - and suddenly not being able to breath or vomiting nonstop and being so confused about what was happening to them. 

Another statistic that they showed that to me is incredibly startling - "since we were kids", the instance of food allergies has grown by 300%. THREE. HUNDRED. PERCENT. And it's still rising. 

Food allergies are becoming more and more prevalent in our society, that people have a lot of misinformation about, that is often misunderstood, and that can literally hit anyone at any time. 15 million Americans live with food allergies - and I say "live" and not "suffer" because anyone I know with a food allergy, including my own son, is FAR from suffering - and of those about 6 million (or 2 in every classroom, on average) are children. 

Of those 6 million children with food allergies, about 1/3 have reported being bullied specifically because of their food allergy - and those are only the kids that report it. 

One-third of kids with them have been bullied because of their food allergy... and yet 25% of anaphylactic in-school reactions are people who have never before had a food allergy or exhibited symptoms. 

That is incredibly unsettling to me. 

The theories as to what cause food allergies and what has caused the recent spike in occurrences are numerous and there is no cure or consistently effective long-term treatment (outside of allergen avoidance). But - there are a couple of things that we do know about them:
  1. Food allergies are a very real medical issue - not a lifestyle choice. No one in their right mind would choose to live with a potentially fatal food allergy. We, in fact, actively prayed that God NOT give Will food allergies. 
  2. In many instances, ingestion of an allergen can cause an anaphylactic reaction which - if not immediately recognized and treated with epinephrine and emergency medical care - can be fatal.
One thing that I've learned since we got Will's diagnosis back in 2013 is that there is a LOT that people don't know or don't realize - but the vast majority of people are willing to listen, hear your story, and hear how they can help make things easier. Most people are willing to accommodate - especially once they understand that food allergies can be life-threatening. I've had moms of Will's friends text me labels of food from grocery stores and I've had people ask me questions and make sure that things were clear before putting them out for the general populous so that Will didn't feel left out. I've had one of my son's friends look at me like I was crazy for checking a label to make sure something was safe for him to eat because his mom had already checked the label - "We looked! It's safe for Will! My mom checked!" - because he wants his pal to be safe too.

By and large, people are willing to learn and understand.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be sharing with you some of the highlights of what I learned about at the FARE Food Allergy Conference - research, tips, what food allergies are, how you can help in an emergency, and more. My hope is that this information will reach many people who will find it useful, enlightening, and maybe even hopeful. Because believe it or not - there is hope, and there is DEFINITELY a lot that is good for those who are living with food allergies.

If you have any questions at any point please leave a comment or reach out to me directly if you have my contact information. Parents of those living with food allergies and those who are living with food allergies want to help people to understand and to educate and to spread the information - I am one of those parents. 

As I share information over the next 2-3 weeks, please share the posts on social media, email, print them out and hand them to someone who may find the information useful or helpful. My hope is that I can use the platforms I have to educate and inform people about food allergies and help all those in the many "villages" of the world have the knowledge they need to be able to serve those in their lives who go through the day-to-day with food allergies.

In the meantime, here are a few links that might help to provide you with some useful information:

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