Serious food allergies on the rise among students
By Claire Moran & Brittany Roker, Staff Reporter and Community Relations Editor
Junior Ben Gibbons will never forget the feeling of not being able to breathe. He was at a party last winter and ate about 15 or 20 celery sticks, when all of a sudden his throat closed up. He nearly passed out.
Gibbons is not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control, two percent of adults and four to eight percent of children in the United States have food allergies. Medline Plus, a service provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, defines a food allergy as an abnormal response to a food triggered by the body’s immune system. Although allergies are prominent, for Gibbons his allergy came as more of a shock.
“I was surprised because I honestly didn’t know you could be allergic to celery, but it wasn’t that bad,” Gibbons said. “I got used to it.”
To avoid allergens, students have to alter their daily lives. Besides checking the ingredients at restaurants, students with allergies also have to read labels on food products, and inform friends and family of their condition. Many people with allergies must also avoid skin contact with the allergen, making sure that friends and family wash their hands and brush their teeth before coming in contact with them.
Sophomore George Stern, who is allergic to all nuts and suffers from Oral Allergy Syndrome, believes that the Conestoga community is very understanding of his allergies.
“I see that when someone takes out something with nuts in it, they actually ask, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Are you allergic?’ without me having to tell them,” Stern said. “I think there’s a [rising] concern because of the increase of people with allergies.”
Along with the rising concern, Conestoga nurse Dawn Zrebiec believes that there has also been an increase of children with allergies over the last several years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children with food allergies increased by 18 percent from 1997 to 2007.
“There definitely are more allergies out there in the world and we’re not exactly sure why but more people seem to have allergic reactions,” Zrebiec said. “A lot of it might be because of the more complex nature of foods. There are more additives in foods to preserve them.”
Zrebiec said that the increase in allergies has made it easier for students to cope. Because of this increase, people are now more aware of the special needs of students with allergies.
“It’s definitely more acceptable to be a child with allergies today than it once was,” Zrebiec said. “I think 15 or 20 years ago, children who had a peanut allergy, for example, felt very isolated.”
Avoiding allergens has grown easier for students over the years because food labels are clearer to read, according to allergist Albert S. Rohr of Rohr and Columbo Asthma, Allergy and Immunology Specialists, P.C.
“They have to use plain language,” Rohr said. “They used to say something like, ‘This food contains cancion,’ and people would say, ‘Okay, well what’s that?’ Now it has to say that [cancion] is milk. It makes it easier for people to understand.”
Although allergy awareness has increased, people still may not fully understand the effects and implications of food allergies.
“I think that a lot of people who don’t have a food allergy tend to minimize the risk,” Rohr said. “They say, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad. You can go ahead and eat a little bit and you will be fine.’ But for people who are really sensitive, even a tiny amount can be life-threatening.”
As hard as students try, it is impossible to completely eliminate their allergens. To limit allergic episodes in school, the District strictly adheres to an allergen policy. The nurses compile a list of allergies among the students and distribute it to the cafeteria staff, Family and Consumer Science teachers and bus drivers. Every time a student with allergies buys food from the cafeteria, their allergy information shows up on the screen.
Students with life-threatening allergies must be treated with extra caution. These students receive a form called the Emergency Allergy Plan, and their doctor must complete a form detailing the treatment they should receive in case of a severe allergic reaction.
Senior Julianna Quazi understands how hard it can be for students with allergies. Quazi is allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, coconut, sesame seed and other seeds and has a sensitivity to raw fruits and vegetables. Her allergies limit what kinds of foods she is allowed to eat.
“I don’t get to broaden my horizons as [much as] other people because I am not able to try as many exotic foods because of the ingredients used,” Quazi said. “I really like to try new foods. So, I think especially for me, that is difficult, because there are a lot of things I have to miss out on.”
Despite the situation, Quazi manages to stay positive, instead choosing to focus on what she can eat.
“I can eat a whole ton of stuff,” Quazi said. “It seems like I have a lot of allergies but there is really a lot that I can eat.”
Claire Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.