Severe food allergies forcing nut-free classrooms

Food allergies are on the rise in children, forcing many schools to change the way food is handled inside their classrooms and cafeterias. One of those schools is Immaculate Conception Cathedral School in Lake Charles, which has gone nut-free for pre-K through 3rd grade students.

Hillary Green's 4-year-old son Finley never had problems with food allergies until eating a mixed nut granola bar six months ago.

"He started sneezing uncontrollably and within about a minute of that he started vomiting uncontrollably," said Green.

Five minutes later, Finley's body broke out in hives. An allergy blood test showed a severe allergy to tree nuts.

"Pecans, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, even coconuts," said Green, "you have to be very careful with certain oils and extracts."

With Finley entering pre-K at ICCS, his exposure to these allergens was a top concern for this mom. Green was put at ease by a letter that went home to all parents at the start of the school year, explaining that several young students have severe food allergies, leading to nut-free classroom policies.

Erin Lang, Director of Development at ICCS, said this is the second year the school is enforcing nut-free policies for lower elementary students.

"We know that it is a life-threatening allergy for some of our students," said Lang, "we thought that we should make some changes that were reasonable for our school."

The changes start at home with packed lunches.

"We ask that lunch be completely nut-free, which means free of peanuts and free of any products that may have gone through a facility that handled peanuts or tree nuts," said Lang.

Classroom snacks and party treats are also now nut-free and a nut-free table is open in the cafeteria.

"After each lunch seating, the faculty and staff wipes down the tables with Clorox wipes," said Lang, "and we are avid hand-washers."

Every classroom and office at ICCS also has a red folder containing emergency medical information for each student with a severe food allergy, as well as their emergency response plan.

The staff also knows the signs of an allergic reaction. Imperial Health Family Medicine physician, Dr. Melissa Rasberry explains what to look for: "... itching in the mouth and the throat, swelling in the mouth and the throat, shortness of breath, increased heart rate cut hives, nausea, vomiting."

Parents like Green now send their kids to school with a nut-free ID bracelet, medical kit and the hope that parents are paying attention to food allergy labels.

"They're pretty much everywhere," she said, "and it's definitely become a lifestyle and a family change for us."

The faculty and staff at ICCS are also trained in how to use EpiPens if a student has an allergic reaction.

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