Students with food allergies taking unnecessary risks

August 6th, 2008 - 3:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 6 (IANS) Students allergic to food still eat them when they know they shouldn’t and they are not treated with potentially life-saving epinephrine as often as they should be. Besides instructors, roommates and friends often are not aware of what to do if a food-allergic student has a reaction, according to a recent study by University of Michigan Health System.

The research suggests that many such students aren’t taking the threat of a reaction seriously enough, or are regularly in environments where they could not be properly treated during an emergency.

In addition, grade-school students are often in school environments where there is no food allergy policy, and where instructors are not trained how to treat an emergency food allergy reaction.

In four related studies about food allergies, the researchers found a common theme: “Food-allergic individuals need to increase the awareness of their food allergy among the people around them,” said lead researcher Matt Greenhawt, who conducted the research while he was a fellow at the U-M Health System and now is an associate at the Allergy & Asthma Center, LLC in the Atlanta metro area.

“This would include not only telling them that they are food allergic but also showing them how to treat them and how to recognize signs of an ongoing reaction,” Greenhawt notes.

The most common food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. Food allergies can lead to death; a life-threatening reaction caused by allergies is called anaphylaxis. Food allergy occurs in six to eight percent of children 4 years old or under, and in 3.7 percent of adults, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Among college students, researchers found that only 50 percent of the students who identified themselves as having an allergy to a food said they always avoided the food.

About two-thirds could verify that somebody close to them on campus was aware that they were food-allergic. About 60 percent could verify that either a roommate, house mate or suite mate was aware of his or her food allergy.

The findings that cause the most concern, said Marc S. McMorris, co-author of the study, is that only 43 percent who identified themselves as food-allergic could verify that they had in their possession an emergency medication to treat a reaction, and only about 20 percent had self-injectable epinephrine - the recommended treatment - available to treat a reaction.

Like on college campuses, the use of self-injectable epinephrine to treat a reaction was irregular. While nearly three-quarters of the food-allergic children had epinephrine available, less than one-third received the treatment.

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