Health Check: Food allergy a serious subject for students

Published: Aug. 5, 2016 at 11:20 AM CDT
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Many of us are preparing to send our children back to school, but for parents of the more than six million children with a food allergy, back to school means more than just buying supplies and clothes. As Serese Cole reports in Health Check, it means making sure your student is safe at school.

Many kids love a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but when nine-year-old James Fittje makes his - he leaves out a key ingredient.

He's been eating it " jam-only" since one bite turned dangerous in pre-school.

"She had given me a peanut butter cookie, and i didn't know what it was so I took a bite out of it," he remembered. "It felt queasy and like I couldn't breathe and next thing I know I couldn't see anything."

"We picked him up and he was just laying on the floor and just shallow breathing, his mother Johanna Fittje added. "When we took him to the hospital - when I was holding him in my arms - his eyes were rolling back."

James had a severe reaction to peanuts. But he's not alone. About 200-thousand people end up in the E.R. every year because of a food allergies.

James doesn't let his peanut allergy keep him from having fun -but his mom admits - going back to school brings a little anxiety for them both.

"I'm scared that I (might) touch something or eat something that has it - so that's why I always bring my cold lunch," James said.

Serese Cole, "Parents like Johanna are careful to make sure their kids aren't exposed to peanuts at home. However, the reality is 15-percent of kids will have some sort of reaction at school.

"Everything from lunches to treats, friends to just to the lack of education with allergies and food allergies in the school system," Johanna Fittje stated.

Fremont Health Emergency Room Director Brian Cunningham says her concerns are valid.

"For example, somebody at home has no allergies eats some peanut butter toast for breakfast, comes to school, has it on their breath or on their hands, even that - that amount, sitting next to somebody with a really severe allergy can be enough to send them into a reaction," said Cunningham.

The key: communication and preparation.

The Fittje's have that covered.

James wears a medical bracelet to alert everyone about his food allergies. While mom has emergency plans and medication in place.

"I've got his Epi-pen....his teacher has a set in the classroom, in the office. It's just people knowing that he's got these allergies and to watch out for it."

For mom, it's peace of mind.

For James, it's the key to a healthy fourth grade school year.

If you have a child with food allergies, you should have an emergency action plan from their doctor and a list of medications to be administered at school in the event your child has a reaction. Make sure those medications are labeled and taken to school on the first day.

It's also important for all of us to recognize the signs of an allergic reaction: They range from a tingling or itching in the mouth - to swelling of the lips or tongue; trouble breathing; or a rash or hives. If you think someone is having an allergic reaction - seek emergency care immediately.