As Food Allergies in Kids Rises, So Does Safety Diligence - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

As Food Allergies in Kids Rises, So Does Safety Diligence

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies in children have increased in the United States from 3.4 percent in 1997 to 5.1 percent in 2009. With food allergies on the rise, some schools have banned peanuts and tree nuts from the classroom.

The symptoms of peanut allergy - skin reactions, itching or tingling around the mouth and throat, digestive problems, tightening of the throat, shortness of breath, and runny nose - can range from mild to life-threatening. For many parents sending their child to school is not easy and they want others to know the risk their child faces.

Sending a child off to school with a lunch box used to be as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, potato chips and an apple. These days parents are increasingly becoming more cautious of food allergies. For this NBC29 special report we talked to parents of children allergic to peanuts and the doctors who are researching ways to help them.

Four-year-old Nick Campisi is allergic to dairy, egg, tree nuts and peanuts. His mom, Jackie, said if he comes in contact with these ingredients his mouth will begin to tingle and he might not be able to breathe.

"I'd have to give him the EpiPen and call 911 right away," Jackie said.

During lunch at Northridge Preschool in Albemarle County, Nick's classmates know if they have food he's allergic to they can't sit near him. His teacher, Amanda Nelson, always checks their lunches.

"Some of the moms will put a piece or tape or something on there telling me that there's peanuts or peanut butter or something like that," Nelson said.

It's that diligence and collective effort to keep kids with allergies safe that is becoming more common in schools.

Dr. Scott Commins is an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Virginia. He said there are several theories as to why food allergies are on the rise, including over-cleaning and sanitizing, antibiotics, and vaccines.

Commins is leading a program to desensitize the body from the effects of the allergy. In the program, kids with a peanut allergy are given peanuts. They begin with a small amount of peanut flour and over time the dose is increased. Eventually, the children can include peanuts in their diets.

"The idea is that this is not a cure but that we can make our most allergic kiddos safer," Dr. Commins said.

While the program carries risks and may not work for everyone, there are some success stories. Six-year-old Madden Hoover was diagnosed with several food allergies, including peanuts, when she was just 1-year-old. Madden joined Dr. Commin's study two years ago, now she can eat foods with peanuts.

"The biggest perk, I guess you could say, from the whole thing is the freedom from fear at school," Madden's mom, Melissa Hoover said.

Another perk, Madden said, is it gives her the freedom to discover new foods. "Snickers and some kind of ice cream that has nuts in it are basically my favorite," Madden said.

Dr. Commins says one in every 13 people under the age of 18 has a food allergy - that's roughly two in every classroom. Food allergies are a growing problem but safety and research are putting fears aside. 

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