Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fighting False Information

I always find it amazing how in a society that prides itself on tolerance and acceptance, there can be so much hatred directed towards people – and children, no less - with medical conditions that in some jurisdictions are classed as disabilities.

In the latest issue of Chatelaine magazine, you can find an article that dismisses food allergies as an overreaction by “parents and schools [who are] cowering in fear of the tiny peanut”. The article is a parent of a picky eater who has been inconvenienced by her son’s school enacting a ban on peanuts for the sake of safety of another allergic student.

The author proceeds to misquote studies and figures to support her theories. A good take on the article – and the overall reaction by the public and Chatelaine’s editors - can be found here (and yes, that’s my comment as ‘Hi-Lander’). I can understand the editors’ reasoning for publishing the article … it creates controversy, controversy creates sales, and sales create profit.

How often do the people with these negative opinions think about how it affects those of us that have to deal with food allergies on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis? Reading through the comments on both the original and CBC News articles rub salt deep into a fresh wound for me, as we are still dealing with the effects of one such parent at our sons’ school. Krystyne or I now have to be in the classroom from the morning bell until lunchtime to monitor for a possible reaction in hopes to catch Liam before it turns anaphylactic. What’s sad is that before this, Liam had no reactions in the two years he was in school. Since this change (read my last post for the details), Liam has had two reactions within three weeks. This is also the reason the blog has been so quiet lately – the whole thing is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining – as it is still not resolved.

When it comes to peanut allergies, there are varying triggers that require varying precautions.

The trigger with the highest threshold for causing a reaction is when someone actually eats peanuts. This is relatively easy to avoid – one commenter on the Chatelaine article (connieg) relates to this – simply don’t eat peanuts. This has no effect on picky eaters as long as food is not shared. Education of your own child is the key to keeping them safe.

The trigger for the next-lower threshold is in touching something with peanut protein (residue). In this case, the education of others is necessary as well as the child with the allergy. This is the reason that some airlines create “buffer zones” where peanuts are not allowed to be served. As long as the child doesn’t touch anything outside of that buffer zone, there should not be a reaction. In school classrooms, the easiest thing to do is ban peanuts from the room (at least in primary grades, until the child is old enough to manage their own allergy). There is a Kindergarten student at our boys’ school who is touch allergic to peanuts.

Many people believe that using an anti-bacterial hand wash or spray can clean surfaces of peanut residue, but anti-bacterial is not anti-protein. When wiping a surface with peanut protein using anti-bacterial wipes (or sprays, or alcohol-based cleaners), you are merely smearing the protein around. It needs to be washed with ‘regular’ cleaning agents (i.e.: SOAP).

Liam’s trigger has the lowest threshold (rare even in his allergist’s experience). He is in the 1% of peanut-allergic children who are airborne-allergic to peanuts. This means that if you ate peanut butter for breakfast, he can react (and has reacted) to you. With each reaction, the allergy gets more severe, and lessens any chances he may have had of growing out of it later in life. His reaction times have lowered from over an hour (airborne) to within 15 minutes, and from minutes (ingesting) to seconds. This is another reason why many schools put peanut bans in place, and why Liam always carries his EpiPens with him.

With more misinformation, such as in the Chatelaine article and related comments, comes the need for more accurate education. When Anaphylaxis Canada learned that the article was to be published, they penned and submitted a formal rebuttal letter, and started a discussion forum in Chatelaine’s Health section – which has since been buried by discussions on H1N1 concerns.

Education is the key, but like all keys, needs to fit the lock.


  1. Make that 3 reactions in 4 weeks ... he's had another - thankfully mild - this morning.

  2. 4 reactions. Yet another one this morning. This has GOT to stop!

  3. Hi my name is April and I'm Chris Weaver's wife (he says he knows you)...I'm very sorry for your situation and I hope that very soon that these people you're dealing with come to there senses! We understand what your going through with your son our son also has a peanut allergy and the school here serves PB&J sandwichs and I'm on my second year of trying to get them to see that this is a dangerous situation...I don't understand how some people can think that this is just“parents and schools [who are] cowering in fear of the tiny peanut” when we all very well know if this was their child they would be doing the same things we are yet we would be supporting them not making their lives a nightmare! Kids should be safe at school and it's sad that they are not. I'm now at the point that I'm losing sleep over this and I'm feeling lost. This pains me to know that your little boy is suffering throught this too when he did not ask for this...I wish you luck and thank you for the information!

  4. Maybe we should bring back school provided lunches that are healthy. Jamie Oliver needs to talk to these parents. Maybe Dr. Oz would get their attention. Write Oprah! It would save problems. But then again schools make cuts and food suppliers are lazy and throw "may contain" on everything. Soon we will have strict Peanut Free schools! Only kids with peanut allergies allowed.