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Food Allergies Increasing

More children are being diagnosed with allergies. WMBD 31 takes a look at how it is impacting local school districts.
More Central Illinois schools are making the decision to go "nut free" this year. It's a reaction to the growing number of children diagnosed with food allergies. The move is about more than policing peanut butter. In some cases it's a matter of saving lives.

Germantown Hills Superintendent Dan Mair says his staff made the call this year to make the kindergarten through second grade building completely nut free. Twelve out of the 260 kids have documented cases of peanut or tree nut allergies.

Mair says, "In my own education, in speaking with parents, I've found that once a reaction happens, subsequent reactions are
Much more severe. So you can certainly understand why the parents are on edge of the kids who have these allergies"

The growing number and severity of nut allergies also prompted Peoria School District 150 to name three of its buildings nut free zones, including Hines Primary School and Thomas Jefferson this year. School nurse Kathy Rigenberg says in the last three to four years, she has noticed a significant increase in the students she serves.

Pediatric allergist Dr. Kenneth Arnett says the exact reason for the increase is hard to pinpoint, but he is seeing the same trend in his own practice.

Arnett says, " Nationally, the incidence report has essentially doubled in the last ten years. So there is a significant problem with food allergies not just in Peoria but across the nation."

While Dr. Arnett says there is a rise in allergies across the board, peanuts and tree nuts are more concerning because they are more likely to cause what is known as anaphylaxis.

Arnett explains, "You can go from a child who is active and playing and what happens is literally they start to have swelling of their throat, swelling of their esophagus. They can't swallow their own spit. They can't breath because their larynx and trachea are swelling shut.

People with nut allergies also don't have to eat the product to experience that type of reaction.

Rigenberg says, "The dust just from those nut products when that package is opened if those children inhale it, they can go into respiratory arrest."

Which makes cleaning and sanitizing these schools even more of a priority.

Mair tells WMBD 31, "We make sure our custodians are cognizant of the need to wipe down keyboards and door knobs and anything little kids hands come in contact with, which might be the whole building."

The decision to go nut free has been met with its fair share of backlash in both districts.

Rigenberg says, "Some felt we were infringing on their right for their child to have peanut butter, and I would explain but that is infringing on that child's right to live."

But for the families who are faced with life threatening allergies, the changes are already making a difference.

Mair says, "When they are primary school aged, their self control and self restraint.. It's just not there yet. So we are there for them."

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