Category Archives: allergies

Nuts and kinders

I’ve explained in a previous post that I have a severe allergy to tree nuts. My husband hasĀ  a milder allergy to tree nuts as well. Thus, we are being very careful with our little daughter. Genetics being what they are, I presume that there’s a chance she may develop the same allergy. I mean to find a “nut-free” kindergarten for her.

In light of that, it’s stories like this one which strike a chill into my heart. The Baptist family’s four year old son Alex was attending a supposedly “nut-free” kindergarten. It appears that perhaps some nuts made their way into the kinder; at any rate, Alex seems to have suffered a severe anaphylactic shock and died. One staff member accidentally stabbed herself in the finger with the Epipen (adrenalin injection), the other couldn’t get the lid off the spare Epipen. Epipens save the lives of those who suffer from anaphylaxis.

The coroner was not prepared to find that Alex’s death was as a result of anaphylaxis. Nor was she prepared to find that the kindergarten staff had been wanting, or that a parent might have brought a peanut butter sandwich to the kindergarten for her toddler (despite “evasive” evidence from the parent).

I have some sympathy for the kindergarten staff. If they have not been trained in the administration of Epipens, and were thrown into a crisis situation, then it’s understandable that they would panic, and that accidents will occur. I do not think that they should be personally blamed, but I do think that it should be recognised that kindergarten and school staff require training in the administration of Epipens, and also training as to how to respond when an anaphylactic reaction is suffered by a child.

On the other hand, my heart aches for the Baptists. I can understand how they must feel furious and devastated. Your child is so precious, and to lose your son in such a way… They must wonder what would have happened if the Epipens had been administered properly.

I think it’s also a matter of educating the broader community. It appears that there was some evidence that another person brought a peanut butter sandwich to the kindergarten, although the coroner was not prepared to conclude that this in fact occurred. Parents need to be told that they should not bring in food with allergens if there is a child with an allergy in the class. It’s not a matter of a child not liking peanuts, or breaking out in a rash – it’s a matter of life and death. Again, I don’t feel that the person who may have brought peanut butter into the kindergarten should be singled out – there’s a lot of ignorance out there.

As I have said in my earlier post, I think that there is a general lack of understanding in the community as to the severity of some allergies – it’s not just “being picky” or being a hypochondriac. I can die if I eat the wrong thing and don’t administer my Epipen in time. Of course, the question I always get asked is: “Have you had to do it before yourself?” The answer is, “Yes.” When people say, “How could you bear to do it?” I say, “Better than dying.”

So, to the Baptists – I am so so sorry about the loss of their son, and I wish them all the best in their campaign to raise awareness of this issue.

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Filed under allergies, nuts, society

May contain traces of nuts…

During my late teens, I developed a life-threatening allergic reaction to various nuts. {Pause} The pause is while I wait for you to bring out the “funny” jokes I’ve heard a million times before (most common variant: “You must be allergic to yourself then!”). I have had anaphylactic reactions to nuts a few times, requiring instant hospitalisation. I carry an Epipen at all times.

I have been inspired by this post at Robert Ambrogi’s Lawsites to embark upon my own rant about food allergies. It seems like the US has similar issues to here. One thing I really hate is the disclaimer “May contain traces of nuts”. I am allergic to tree nuts (hazelnuts, pine nuts, chestnuts etc). I am not allergic to peanuts. For the record, peanuts are not a nut, they are a legume (if you don’t believe me, how can you disbelieve Wiki?).

The warning “may contain traces of nuts” is useless. Does the product contain nuts? What kind of nuts does it contain? Does it contain peanuts? Or tree nuts? I do wish people would be specific. It can mean the difference between life and death to me. If I avoided all products with a “may contain traces of nuts” label, there would be hundreds of products I couldn’t eat. Fortunately, I know that I can eat most brands of food even where there is a warning. I have never had a problem with food labeled “may contain traces of nuts” yet. That being said, I stick to brands which I know are safe. My theory is that either:
(a) the “nuts” in point are peanuts to which I am not allergic; or
(b) the label is just a lawyer’s trick to cover companies on the 0.01% off chance that a hazelnut fragment falls into the vanilla ice cream mix.

The other thing which really irritates me is when people say, “I’m allergic to dairy” or something like that…but what they mean is that they have a minor intolerance to dairy (it makes them feel slightly nauseous). When I say I’m allergic to nuts, I don’t mean that I don’t like nuts, or that they give me gas, or that I like to be difficult and have a severe case of hypochondria. I mean that I might die or be hospitalised. A friend of mine suffers from coeliac’s disease, and he has similar problems. His small intestine has been severely damaged by his body’s auto-immune response to gluten and lactose, and he has a very violent and painful reaction when he eats something with gluten in it.

The recent trend in people saying that they are “allergic” to certain foods means that sometimes, restaurants and waiters may not take food allergies seriously. I usually say: “I’m allergic to nuts. Let’s be clear about this. I may die if I eat nuts and I don’t inject myself with adrenalin in time. I can have a reaction even if nuts have merely touched something I eat, or if kitchen utensils which have come into contact with nuts have then come into contact with my food.” That usually sharpens up the attention of waiters.

I would like uniform food labeling laws. It is great when food labels list potentially allergenic ingredients in bold (including nuts, shellfish, peanuts, milk and wheat products). It is also great when labels say that a product has been made on machinery which may have also been used to process products with hazelnuts, for example. At least it’s specific, and I know I have to avoid that product.

I also think there is an untapped market out there for people with food allergies. I saw some chocolate which is apparently made on “nut free” machinery the other day – what a great idea! But it’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that. My coeliac friend has trouble getting gluten free and dairy free brands consistently; he found a great lactose-free cream a few months ago, but all of a sudden, it isn’t available any more. I would love to see more chocolate and cakes manufactured in “nut and peanut free” factories.

I would also like to see greater education and knowledge about food allergies, particularly with an emphasis on the fact that some food allergies are very serious and can be deadly.

I really hope that my daughter isn’t allergic to nuts too. There’s a fairly high chance that she might be, as my husband is also mildly allergic to nuts. The local creche at our swimming pool has a “no nuts” policy – children are not allowed to bring nuts or nut products to creche. People might think this is ridiculous, but from my perspective, it’s great. I don’t want my darling little girl to come into contact with something that might kill her. People who work in creches and schools should be trained to respond to children with food allergies. I gather there was a recent case in Australia where a kindergarten teacher didn’t know how to use the Epipen properly or how to respond, and injected herself instead of the child. The child died.

This is one of the reasons I think genetically modified food is not necessarily a bad thing. I wonder if they could genetically engineer foods without the proteins which cause allergic reactions? At the moment, I guess that’s pretty far fetched. As a lawyer and a person with food allergies, all I can hope for is clearer labeling laws, and insist on proper policies with respect to food allergies.

Update

A reader has pointed out this recent tragic incident, in which a Melbourne schoolboy has died after ingesting peanuts at a school camp.

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Filed under allergies, law reform, nuts