Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First Day of School was "Great!"

Abigail got off the bus last Wednesday, the first day of school, all smiles.  What a relief to hear that the first day of school was "great!"  The last couple of days have also been successful with the making of new friends, learning a new schedule and getting back into a routine.  I'm so pleased that everything is going smoothly for her.  These early days of school really can set the tone for the entire year.

Apparently, there are actually four kids with peanut allergies in her class.  It makes me wonder if the school system decided to put all of the peanut allergy kids within a grade level together this year. Abigail did tell me though that she's the only one with an EpiPen in the class.

I've been pretty impressed so far with Abigail's teacher. She came home with stories about how her teacher is using a Clorox wipe to clean the section of the table where they eat and then having each of the kids in the class use a wipe to clean their hands on the way out of the cafeteria back to the classroom.  I had told her teacher that hand sanitizer does not remove the peanut allergen, that only hand washing and wipes work, but didn't make any specific requests.  FYI, if you want to share this information with your child's teacher, here's a link to a Johns Hopkins study with the details.    

I will say, I was a bit taken aback on Friday when I was e-mailing her teacher to confirm a date to come in and talk with the kids.  Apparently, changes have been made within the county school system requiring permission from the parents.  Per the Principal, she asked that I draft a note that would go home with each child stating what I intended to discuss that they would then sign giving their permission for their child to listen and participate in a food allergy discussion....or not.  Granted, I may have had too grand of plans with a possible showing of a video, discussing the FAAN "Be a PAL" brochure, passing around the Epi trainer and then handing out a certificate, but I was in the process of scaling back.  After previewing the video (I'll review it in another post), I'd decided not to use it.  I also thought that it might be better to give the certificate to each child at the end of the school year like last year.  I haven't drafted a note yet.  That request really knocked the wind out of my sails.

Oh yeah, I also got a phone call the first day of school from the nurse.  As soon as she identified herself, I realized my mistake.  I'd spent hours pulling together the necessary medicines, documents and meeting with the teacher, but had forgotten to include the nurse in any of my preparations.  After thinking I'd dotted all "i's" and crossed all "t's", I was back at the school last week, completing a separate action plan and making amends with the nurse.  You'd think this whole process would get easier each year!

I can really sympathize with a mom's feeling of anxiety over sending her food allergic Kindergartner to elementary school for the first time.  It's over-whelming even for a seasoned mom.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to School with a Peanut Allergy

Is everybody ready for another school year to start?  Today was finally the turning point for me.  Up until today, I was a little melancholy that the summer was coming to an end.  I feel we've been so busy that we've not had enough time to just relax and play.  But after yet another day of donning my black and white striped shirt to referee yet another disagreement between my 7 year old and 3 year old, I decided it was time for the kids to go back to school.

I met with Abigail's 2nd grade teacher this morning to discuss her peanut allergy.  For the first time since she started school, preschool included, there is another child with a peanut allergy in her class.  Her teacher had not yet met with his parents, so I wasn't able to discern how serious his allergy was or if the parents were super, super vigilant or really low key (I tend to come in somewhere in the middle...cautious, safe, but with the attitude that she still has to live her life to the fullest).  I think it will be good to have another child with a peanut allergy in the class unless either his allergy is not as serious or his parents don't take it as serious and then the students might receive mixed messages, i.e., why is it okay for him, but not Abigail? 

Like last year, this morning I took in a letter of introduction to send home to the parents of her classmates, a Peanut Allergy Action Plan, a list of peanut safe snack/treat suggestions, an Epi Pen practice injector (which wasn't required because her teacher carries one for her own bee sting allergy) and some ideas for a class discussion on food allergies.  This year for the first time I'm going to go into the classroom at the start of the school year and review the "Be a PAL" (Protect A Life) brochure with Abigail's classmates.  I've found a food allergy word search puzzle that they can take home, and if the video is any good, I'll also take in the "Arthur: Binky Goes Nuts" video for the kids to watch.  I checked it out from our public library today and will preview it tomorrow.  I'm also thinking about taking in some snacks to show them how to read the label, and maybe, if it wouldn't embarrass Abigail too much, an expired Epi Pen and an orange to let her show them how to administer it.  I'm wondering if 2nd grade is too early for that?? Lastly, I'll have a certificate ready for each child, also from the FAAN site which names them "Hero's" for looking after their friend's safety.

But, it doesn't end there.  We have a letter ready to give to both her morning and afternoon bus drivers along with a copy of the Peanut Allergy Action Plan, I have school medical authorization forms for the antihistamine and Epi Pens at the pediatrician's office to be signed, I'm waiting for a new prescription to be called in to replace her soon-to-expire school Epi Pens and I've purchased more antihistamine fast melt tablets for a still-have-to-be-packed medicine bag.  And, just one more day left to get it all done!

What I haven't done, and probably won't is complete a Section 504 Plan.  I know lots of moms that do, and if Abigail had multiple food allergies, or if her school was unaccommodating, then I probably would.  If you're unsure, the Food Allergy Initiative site is a great resource in determining whether you should and for giving lots of information to better understand the details of the law.

One more day of summer, and then it's back to school for my big 2nd grader.  I'm hoping it's a fun and peaceful day.  If you're interested in all of the forms I mentioned, be sure to check back in the next day or so.  I'm hoping to set up the links in a separate column to the right of the posts.  Good luck this year!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Columnist Changes Tune

Pick an adage, "open mouth, insert foot", "eat crow", "change in tune", "what goes around comes around", they all apply to columnist Joel Stein.  Back in January of 2009, he wrote an opinion article for the Los Angeles Times titled "Nut Allergies - A Yuppies Invention."   Here's his opening paragraph.."Some kids really do have food allergies.  But most just have bad reactions to their parents' mass hysteria.  Your kid doesn't have an allergy to nuts.  Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special."  Lovely, huh?  Glad I missed it.

Mr. Stein recently had a follow up article published just last week in Time titled "Aw, Nuts!" in which he describes the experience of having his 1 year old son eat some mixed nuts and then rushing him to the emergency room with symptoms of hives, swelling eyes and vomiting.  Yes, his son has a nut allergy.

There was a lot of backlash from the food allergy community to Mr. Stein's first article.  Having just read it this week, I can understand why.  I'm not going to go into a detailed review of his article, you can read it and see.  It's funny that the part that rubs me wrong references the same study that I did in a past post (http://peanutclinicaltrial.blogspot.com/2010/03/allergic-reaction-anxiety.html). It was a study done in 2003 regarding allergy anxiety.  It showed that kids who were told they were allergic to peanuts had more anxiety and felt more physically restricted than if they had diabetes.  I referenced the study to indicate how hard it is to help children with life-threatening allergies to remain well-adjusted.  Mr. Stein used the study as a follow up to his comment, "Parents may think they are doing their kids a favor by testing them and being hyper-vigilant about monitoring what they eat, but it's not cool to freak kids out."

Cool or not, as parents, we are doing everything in our power to keep our children safe, and if that means that our kids need be taught to monitor everything they eat, then so be it.  Obviously, this statement came from a time when Mr. Stein didn't understand the reality of living with a life threatening allergy.

I wish the best for him and his son.  They've got a long journey ahead.  Having a severe food allergy is no walk in the park for either the person with the allergy or their family.  Having a food allergy and a dad that has nationally "opened mouth and inserted foot" is going to be quite the challenge.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer's Bounty

I have just a small, organic garden, but it's produced a great summer bounty.  I just took a quick picture of what's sitting on my counter right now.

It doesn't include what's in my fridge.  Just goes to prove that you don't have to be an expert or have a ton of space to grow fresh veggies.

Here's before and after pictures of the garden space. It's just 3 feet by 12 feet.  The fence is only necessary if you have wildlife, i.e., rabbits or "lots of help", i.e., a 3 year old.  I felt really silly having my husband drive 8 foot posts in the ground for my tomatoes, but I've actually had to cut out some of the top branches and tie them up because they've started hanging over.

This year I added a smaller 2 foot by 6 foot space and put additional zucchini and squash plants as well as canelope and banana peppers. Obviously, the melon (my first ever) was quite happy and tasted super good!

So if I haven't been posting like I should, my garden is to blame.  I have to cook or freeze what I've grown.  This wasn't the summer to learn to can or preserve.  Maybe next year?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Organic Milk...Better for you and improves allergy symptoms.

There's a link between drinking organic milk and the reduction of allergies and eczema. In an article entitled Organic Milk Linked to Fewer Allergies Including Eczema and Asthma, the author references a Dutch study that suggests that children are one third less likely to suffer from allergies before age two if they're raised on organic dairy products.  Both child and breastfeeding mom were given organic dairy products, and the researchers found that there was clear evidence of less incidences of eczema as well as a decrease in the risk for other allergies and asthma.

I've written about this in a prior post, but when Abigail was a newborn, her cheeks were red, raw and inflamed.  I was breastfeeding, and as soon as I eliminated dairy (non-organic at that time) from my diet, her cheeks cleared up.  When we started her on formula, we gave her a soy-based formula and when it was time, gave her soy milk.  By the time our second came along, we had made the switch to organic foods.  He also showed an intolerance to dairy, but instead of soy formula, we used a lactose free formula.  He does still drink organic soy milk but eats organic dairy products.  Interesting that Abigail has the peanut allergy, had bouts of eczema and was frequently on Albuterol or Pulmicort for wheezing.  Our son did have regular ear infections until tubes, but still shows no signs of any sort of allergy.

According to the article, researchers believe that organic milk may be better due to the higher concentrations of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA).  Wikipedia states that "meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals can produce 300-500% more CLA than those of cattle fed the usual diet of 50% hay and silage, and 50% grain.  CLA is also known for it's anti-cancer, body weight management, anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular improvement properties.

Organic milk also has as much as 71 percent more omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 is a alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and is most commonly found in flax seed products and cold-water fish.  You've probably seen products containing DHA and EPA fatty acids which are also omega-3 acids and both have significant health claims.  The omega-3 acids are known to support the development of brain, eyes and nerves, reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, have significant anti-inflammatory benefits that promote immune system enhancements and provide anti-cancer effects particularly for breast, colon and prostate cancers.  According to Wikipedia, recent studies are also showing a positive benefit of omega-3 fatty acids for ADHD as well as psychiatric disorders. So, if there was ever a case to switch to organic milk, this is probably it.

I don't pretend to understand the science of milk production, but wanted to pass on one last thing that I learned.  I've recently started purchasing organic milk that comes from a small, family-owned farm.  It's pasteurized to the point where it meets state laws, but not beyond that.  First off, it tastes wonderful.  Second though, is the claim that many lactose intolerant people can drink it without issue. Wondering why, I searched the internet.

According to a paper I found written on the subject of lactose intolerance the problem is mostly limited to the US.  The author writes that the stripping of nutrients in the pasteurization process causes lactose intolerance.  She writes that the " intolerance is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase in large enough quantities within the human digestive system to break down lactose, a fairly complex disaccharide found in milk.  Raw milk contains harmless bacteria which produce lactase which, in turn, enables the human body to break down and absorb lactose.  Pasteurized milk has had all of these bacteria killed off and is therefore lactase-free, but still contains lactose, causing problems for many people who try to drink it."  Apparently, there are also studies tying pasteurized milk products to decreased bone density, weakened tooth enamel, vision problems (from vitamin B6 insufficiency), and to a large increase in asthma.

What I've taken away from all of this is that while organic milk is best for everyone, if your family is prone to allergies, eczema and asthma, organic milk is even more important, especially milk that is not ultra-pasteurized.  Minimally pasteurized milk is even better if you have access to a local dairy.  Second, essential fatty acids are very important in our diet.  I've found chewable omega-3 supplements that are peanut/tree nut safe for Abigail and have started adding flax seed to my baked goods.

Just one last CIA statement...as with all supplements, do your own research, contact your physician if you have any questions, and this should go without saying, if you have a fish allergy, make sure you're getting omega-3 from a non-fish source.  Readers with life-threatening milk allergies also shouldn't enjoy the benefits of organic milk.