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Julia Schneider, a second-grade student at Central Cass Elementary School, eats her lunch Nov. 30, in Casselton, N.D. Her mother, Susan Schneider, packs her lunch due to food allergies. (Photos by Michael Vosburg)

Planning ahead essential in parenting children with food allergies

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Planning ahead essential in parenting children with food allergies
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CASSELTON - Susan Schneider packs lunch for her kids, 8-year-old Julia and 7-year-old Jacob, every day.

It takes time every night to do this and it's often tough to find new things to pack. That's because her children have dairy allergies, and there's a lot more than just milk that they can't have.


Her preparations don't stop at lunch.

If a classmate is having a birthday and brings treats to school, Schneider makes sure to send a special snack for her kids so they don't feel left out.

"I take the responsibility and then I know exactly what they're getting," she said.

Seemingly innocent cookies or cupcakes may contain dairy that will make her children experience symptoms of seasonal allergies and the stomach flu, she said.

When her kids go to a birthday party or even a friend's house to play, Schneider has to make sure to call the friend's parents to tell them about her kids' food allergies and the things they can't eat.

Restaurants are another challenge.

She once ordered spaghetti, thinking it would be a safe option, but it arrived covered in cheese.

"We have to be really, really careful," Schneider said. "We don't go to restaurants much at all."

Even making something that's typically simple, like a casserole, takes extra effort on Schneider's part.

"When you need a cream soup, I have to get out my chicken broth and my flour and add some margarine in there that's our kind that doesn't have dairy and boil it down," she said.

If her kids are exposed to dairy, Benadryl or Zyrtec minimize the symptoms, she said.

As many as 8 percent of children could have food allergies, according to an article published recently in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics titled, "The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States."

The study surveyed 38,480 people in households with at least one child younger than age 18. Among children with a food allergy, 38.7 percent had a history of severe reactions and 30.4 percent had multiple food allergies.

Researchers relied on parents to report either a doctor's diagnosis or classic symptoms, according to WebMD, a website that provides health information. Because it did not include objective measures, the numbers may have been skewed, experts told WebMD.

Businesses, schools, and food manufacturers are getting better about addressing the issue of food allergies.

Schneider said the Pizza Ranch in Casselton is used to their family ordering a pepperoni pizza without cheese. She also said it's easier than it used to be to find what she's looking for on food labels.

"I used to have to scan the fine print and now most companies have it in bold print down on the bottom," Schneider said.

The Fargo School District works hard to honor the diet of a child with an allergy or any kind of food restriction, said Deb Laber, director of nutrition services.

They work with a dietician and the school nurse in trying to make the diet modifications as close to the menu for the day as possible, "so that student doesn't feel excluded," she said.

Laber said she's seeing more students with food allergies. When she started with the district eight years ago, there were four known students with food allergies. Now there are more than 60, she said.

"We're seeing more awareness, definitely," she said.

Misinformation about food allergies

Kelly Everson of Casselton found out her 8-year-old son, Alex, was allergic to peanuts after he ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich years ago in daycare. He broke out in hives and was having trouble breathing.

The Casselton clinic was closed so they rushed him to Casselton Drug where a pharmacist gave him Benadryl and his symptoms cleared.

Neither Kelly nor her husband, Brent Everson, have peanut allergies, but their second son, 4-year-old Jack is also allergic to peanuts.

Last year on Super Bowl Sunday, Jack ate a bite of a monster cookie, which contained peanut butter, and he instantly broke out in hives and had labored breathing.

Since they had experienced the same reaction with Alex, they gave Jack Benadryl right away and his symptoms cleared.

The boys' allergies are severe enough that they could lead to death but both boys know not to take candy or cookies from anyone.

And Alex, who's been reading well since kindergarten, knows what to do before eating a candy bar.

"Look at the ingredients," he said. And if it has peanuts, "then I won't eat it," he said.

The boys can be around peanuts, but to be safe, the Eversons steer clear of restaurants where peanuts are eaten at the table and the shells can be thrown on the floor.

And when they received candy bags that were also filled with peanuts from Santa recently, they had to give the bags away.

The Eversons' 2-year-old son, Will, has never eaten a peanut and they're hesitant to risk letting him try one because if he is allergic, the reaction is severe.

By now, they're prepared.

"We always carry Benadryl in the car or in my purse," Kelly Everson said.

Alex has a team at Central Cass Elementary School comprised of the school nurse, elementary principal, cooks and others who know what to do if he has a reaction at school. His parents keep an EpiPen there for him. EpiPens are automatic injectors of epinephrine, which treats allergic emergencies.

"His teachers have been awesome," Everson said.

He also brings two snacks to school just in case a classmate brings in a birthday treat he can't have. And at lunch, he knows he can never have the alternative lunch, which is an Uncrustables peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Dr. Dan Dalan of the Asthma & Allergy Care Center in Fargo treats food allergies in children. The most common food allergies he sees are for milk, eggs, wheat, soy, and peanuts in toddlers when they start eating regular foods.

Dalan cautions that there's a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to food allergies.

"A lot of people think that a certain food allergy is an allergy, but it's not," he said adding that people will blame headaches, stomachaches or diarrhea on a food allergy when they've eaten the food in the past and had no adverse reactions to it.

They might also type a symptom into a website and hone in on one thing, like a food allergy, when there are a list of possibilities, he said.

Dalan said he thinks a lot of food allergies are misdiagnosed, especially when people can order an allergy test online. He said it's a travesty with toddlers who might not get flu shots because of a perceived egg allergy.

But severe food allergies do exist and have the potential to be serious, said Dalan, whose nephew died of a food allergy.

If a parent suspects their child might have a food allergy, Dalan recommends talking to their regular doctor before seeing a specialist.