Archive for November, 2006

I think Anaphylaxis is the new Asthma

Found this interesting piece on Time (see full story below). I just love knowing about this stuff. Melanie likes it even more since she comes from a scientist and high school science teacher working background.

I’ve said it before but I personally think food allergies is the new asthma. 30 years ago asthma was the new kid on the block, and I know because I suffered badly with it since I was a baby until my middle teens, and in the beginning not much was known about it. Well that’s just like food allergies today. Thankfully things progressed with asthma and I’m sure it will with food allergies as well.

Aaron

“Over the past 20 years, the number of patients we’ve seen with food allergies has increased tremendously,” says Dale Umetsu, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston. “Many more young children have multiple food allergies and the allergies are more severe.”

And nobody knows why. Popular culprits range from genetically modified foods to vaccines to roasted, rather than boiled, peanuts. The dominant theory, dubbed the hygiene hypothesis holds that as our lives have gotten cleaner-more antibiotics, immunizations, and antibacterial soaps-our immune systems aren’t practicing on the right microbes and attack foods instead.

The second major hypothesis, according to Donald Leung, head of pediatric allergy and immunology at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, is “food-induced tolerance”—early exposure to certain foods (even in utero or through breast milk) triggers allergic reactions.

Contradictory evidence abounds: In a June paper published in Pediatrics, children who ate wheat before six months of age actually had lower allergy rates than those who avoided it. Some studies show C-section delivered babies to be more allergic; others, the opposite. Some evidence suggests homogenized peanut butter is the culprit, other studies point to an increased use of vegetable oils. Dr. Hugh Sampson, professor of pediatrics and immunology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and widely considered the top expert in the field, says: “It’s all still speculative. The answer probably lies in multiple factors-a combination of the hygiene hypothesis and environmental and dietary changes-but my sense is that we still have not gotten to the bottom of why this dramatic increase is happening.”

Living With Anaphylaxis – a small look into what we go through daily

Just found this piece from Time (see below for full story), through this person’s Blog (sorry I don’t know your name)

I must say that I was nearly in tears when I was reading this. As a parent of an anaphylactic child to dairy, eggs, peanuts, it just brings it home what position we are in and I wonder what psychological toll this is having on Declan (not to mention his mother and my wife Melanie). I know what it’s done and how it continues to affect her.

Have a read and comment with your thoughts.

Aaron

Stuffing. Candied yams. Baked ham. And lots of cakes and cookies. For most of us, the holidays are largely about food, and that s what makes them so enjoyable. But for families with food-allergic children, the holidays are all about food—and that s what makes them so terrifying.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology estimates that 6 to 8% of children suffer from severe food allergies, and though no one can agree on exactly why, the number of young sufferers has grown significantly over the past couple of decades. Nearly 90% are caused by milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish or tree nuts. On January 1, a federal law took effect requiring food labels to state clearly whether a product contains any one of those main eight culprits. But significant difficulties—not necessarily medical—remain. A food allergy diagnosis has a tremendous impact on the psychological wellbeing of the entire family, says Anne Muñoz-Furlong, founder and CEO of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a nonprofit patient advocacy group.

The holidays are especially difficult, says Remi Hahn, whose 4-year-old daughter Olivia is severely allergic to dairy, eggs, mustard and sesame. The most stressful thing is the lack of control, Hahn says. One undetected wrong morsel and her daughter could be on her way to the hospital.

Several hospitals around the country are in the process of developing psychiatric programs specifically for families with food allergies. According to Anaphylaxis: How Do You Live With It?, a 2005 article in Health and Social Work, coping with a child who has a severe allergy is similar to dealing with a chronic disease. In a study of 17 families with children with anaphylaxis, the authors describe the profound psychosocial impact on parents of knowing an illness can cause death. “I was completely shocked and surprisingly emotional,” says Stefanie Jones, who burst into tears when daughter Darby was diagnosed four months ago with egg, milk, wheat, and peanut allergies. “I realized I’m going to have that weird kid at the party with the dairy-free, prune juice cookies.”

Children, of course, bear the brunt. “The emotional toll is huge,” says Muñoz-Furlong. “It tends to wear them down, particularly after they have a reaction.” Some children lose the ability to trust people. They may want to stay home all the time within a controlled environment. If they have a reaction at home, they may become afraid that even their parents can’t control the allergy. Others are fearful of food or develop eating disorders. They might become hypochondriac, phobic, or suffer from panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Many see counselors who teach them relaxation tips and how to speak up about their allergies.

For Jill Mindlin, watching her 5-year-old daughter suffer—more times than any parent should—through an anaphylactic reaction to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, or seeds is torture because she sees the effect it has on Maya. One of the symptoms of food allergy is dread, Mindlin explains. She knows something is very wrong and literally tries to jump out of skin. It’s unbearable to watch. As a result, Maya tends to shut down around food and new people. Some of Maya’s first words, her mother says, were “Read the ‘gredients.”

And that’s just what her daughter goes through. To cope with her own stress, Mindlin not only founded a local support group, she attends allergy conferences and lobbies local and state governments to protect food-allergic kids in school. One parent in Mindlin’s support group had to ask the principal to intervene when kids at her child’s elementary school were bullying her son, chasing him around the schoolyard with peanut butter.

Torn between reasonable fear and hypochondria, safety and overprotection, parents struggle to raise their children with some semblance of normalcy—without driving themselves, their kids, their friends, and their communities crazy. Waiters roll their eyes when parents ask to view labels and school staff often resist accommodations. Parents whose kids dive into birthday cake with abandon and live on PB and J aren’t necessarily sympathetic to what they call the peanut police. Even the most understanding moms aren’t accustomed to the precautions involved in having an allergic child over for a playdate.

Adjustments go beyond tailored birthday cake recipes. A 2001 FAAN study of 253 parents of children with food allergies found that childhood allergies have a significant impact on family activities and lifestyles. Heidi Pasternak, a part-time tutor in Lexington, Massachusetts, had to quit her full-time teaching job because she couldn’t find a milk-free daycare for her son Lucas (peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, sesame, shellfish, fish, barley). “The choices of things we’ve done as a family are severely limited,” Pasternak says. “We only went to food-free places when he was a toddler. No Chuck E. Cheese. When I see an ice cream truck I have to walk the other way because he’s contact-sensitive. I thought I was going to be the cool mom and travel to Europe with my baby and take him to Fenway Park. But even at minor league games, everyone’s throwing peanuts at each other.” One saving grace has been an annual trip to Nantucket that Pasternak takes with her friends from college. “They make the house totally safe for Lucas,” she says. “Nobody uses milk, eggs or nuts. I don’t have to be the food police. It’s one of the rare times I can feel totally relaxed while socializing. And that’s a huge deal.”

Remi Hahn goes out her way to make her daughter Olivia feel included during the holidays. She offers to cook cupcakes for the preschool class party, using egg and butter substitutes. At Christmas time, she hosts a party so that her daughter can participate in the baking of a gingerbread house without breaking into hives or having an anaphylactic reaction. And on Christmas Eve, when her family goes out to dinner, Hahn is sure to have the roast beef cut in front of her and to bring extra food in her purse just in case nothing on the menu works. “I try to be as unobtrusive as possible because I feel like Olivia’s allergies are our issue,” she says. “I try to go out of my way so that other people don’t have to go out of theirs, especially around the holidays when everyone else has their own traditions to follow.”

Scientists calls for change to Aust food labelling laws

Just found this interesting piece from the World Today (ABC Radio). See below for full story.

It mentions anaphylaxis right at the bottom, but the main gist of it is that labelling laws still need to be tighter, and it looks like they are going to review Australia and NZ labelling laws again next year.

Australia already has laws regarding it’s labelling of the top allergic food products, I can’t begin to wonder what it would be like for other countries that don’t have strict labelling laws.

I’d love to hear a comment from someone in a country that doesn’t have labelling laws and how they deal with it.

Aaron

ELEANOR HALL: A scientist who has found that many foods are inaccurately labelled is calling for a change in Australia’s labelling laws.

Professor Stefan Fabiansson analysed the nutritional content of 70 pre-packaged products for a study by the New South Wales Food Labelling Authority.

Even allowing for a 20 per cent margin of error, he discovered that 30 per cent of the products tested did not comply with their nutritional labels.

And he says, one of Australia’s most famous labels is one of the offenders.

Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: Nutrition panels on pre-packaged food are supposed to detail how many calories are in the product, as well as protein, fat, carbohydrate, sugar and sodium content.

Patients battling diabetes, high cholesterol and those sticking to low salt diets rely on this information in making their daily choices about what to eat.

Australia’s labelling laws were last amended in 2002. In late 2004, the New South Wales Food Authority decided to find out if the information on these panels accurately reflected what was in the product.

So they bought 70 food products, five samples of each were tested. Dr Stefan Fabiansson was in charge of the study then. He now works at the European Food Safety Authority in Italy.

STEFAN FABIANSSON: It’s a lot of variation in raw materials, so it’s not easy for the food industry to actually give accurate information, but we had hoped that it would have been a little more accurate than it proved to be.

And giving leeway and allowing for small variations, 70 per cent of the product complied and 30 per cent were outside the limit, and we thought that that’s probably a bit over the top.

SABRA LANE: He also discovered that some products, which claimed to be low fat and low salt weren’t.

In another example, one brand of chips had levels of trans fats 13 times higher than claimed on the label.

STEFAN FABIANSSON: Although, you have to admit too that’s it’s quite difficult to analyse trans fats. But 13 times, that’s quite a lot.

SABRA LANE: The Australian Medical Association says there’s no mandatory requirement for the labelling of trans fats.

President Mukesh Haikerwal says they should be listed and they should be phased out of foods.

MUKESH HAIKERWAL: Trans fatty acids are a part of some natural foods, but of course added in many snacks like chips and nuggets and pizzas and so on, and indeed some bakery products. The danger is that these can cause significantly increased risks of heart disease.

As a first step, we need to make sure that we are aware that we’re eating them, so that needs to be mentioned on packaging. And in many countries, including Denmark in particular, it has been removed as an additive, and I think that’s a very important thing to be doing.

SABRA LANE: Dr Fabiansson says inaccurate labelling makes it difficult for patients who need to adhere to a special diet, to protect their health.

STEFAN FABIANSSON: In some cases you really have to look at low salt diets. I mean, you can have a health problem in relation to salt intake.

And that really has to be accurate as well and we found quite a few discrepancies on that as well.

SABRA LANE: Did it surprise you, the kinds of things that you discovered?

STEFAN FABIANSSON: Well, for some of the products it did, and I’m trying to avoid mentioning any brand names or any particular products, but Vegemite was actually well out as well.

And you would have thought that when you’ve made Vegemite for such a long time, you should be able to be accurate in the nutrition information for Vegemite.

SABRA LANE: Kraft, the manufacturer of Vegemite, hasn’t returned phone calls from The World Today.

Dr Fabiansson says Australia’s labelling laws should be re-vamped, and he’s proposing an easier way for consumers to find out what’s actually in the pre-packaged products they buy.

STEFAN FABIANSSON: It’s a trend worldwide currently, to try to introduce signage instead.

Many people can’t really understand what’s in a nutritional information label anyway. So, a simpler method would be to, for example, have in the UK they’ve just introduced a traffic signals; so it’s a green, yellow or red light.

They made it quite complex, so they have one light for each nutritional compound, so that’s a bit difficult to understand as well, but I think that’s a way forward.

SABRA LANE: The AMA also supports a labelling overhaul.

MUKESH HAIKERWAL: Our labelling laws are, I suppose, in need of a revamp.

There’s three main things; one is that the content needs to be accurate, the second is that it needs to be in an understandable form so that people understand kilojoules and they understand calories and it’s important to know what the energy value is of each of the components within the product.

And then we actually need to make sure that things that are potentially dangerous, whether it’s nuts or prawns or some of the other ingredients that cause anaphylaxis are very clearly labelled and get away from the standard copout clause that “it may contain”, because that’s a very misleading claim to put on, and really stops people from being able to access significant amounts of food.

SABRA LANE: Food Standards Australia and New Zealand says labelling standards will be reviewed next year.

ELEANOR HALL: Sabra Lane reporting.

MedicAlert free for elementary school children

Medic Alert Braclet

This story was on ctv.ca and I just had to share it. See below my comments for the story.

Well done to those that got involved to make this happen. This sort of thing will make it’s way across to Australia at some point I’m sure. But until then we’ll keep paying our subscription and using the Medic Alert service that we have here.

Aaron

Elementary school students with potentially life-threatening conditions such as asthma, diabetes and peanut allergies will have access to a free MedicAlert bracelet under a subsidized national program that was launched Monday.

Under the Canadian MedicAlert Foundation’s “No Child Without” program, with serious health problems in participating elementary schools will be offered full MedicAlert protection at no cost.

“As most parents know, children with medical conditions are at risk whenever they leave their home. Parents worry a great deal about how their child will communicate their medical condition in a crisis,” MedicAlert President and CEO Martin Kabat said in a written statement.

“What we’re announcing today is the expansion across Canada of the No Child Without program to provide every student in every school the full protection of MedicAlert. Our mission is to deliver this free to all these students and to give parents peace of mind.”

Under the program, people with potentially dangerous medical conditions provide relevant information to a central registry.

They wear a readily identifiable bracelet or medallion that is engraved with that information along with an ID number and a 24-hour emergency hotline number.

In the event the person falls ill, such as when a bee sting or exposure to peanuts leads to shock or unconsciousness, a caregiver can call the hotline for details on the condition or required treatment.

“The emergency numbers on the back of the MedicAlert bracelets mean school officials and health care providers have quick access to a student’s condition should there be an emergency,” said Dr. Bruce Minnes, associate director of pediatric emergency medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children.

“Critical conditions such as anaphylaxis, asthma and various allergies need immediate attention by paramedics or doctors. Precious time is too often lost tracking down vital medical information.”

Normally, it costs a minimum $50 to sign up for the MedicAlert service and $39 a year to renew, while the customized bracelets or medallions cost at least $35.

The new program will provide the bracelets at no cost to all eligible children age 4 to 14.

A pilot program launched in January is currently in place in 60 schools in Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

However, the Toronto-based organization said that more than 400 schools have indicated they want to join the subsidized program.

The goal is to expand the program to all 10,000 elementary schools in Canada within the next five years.

According to the foundation, about 5 per cent of children in Canadian schools have a serious medical condition.

The foundation also said that about 12 per cent of Canadian children suffer from asthma; up to 6 per cent are affected by food allergies; and between 25,000 and 50,000 are diabetic.

“This initiative will make a positive difference in the lives of the families who rely on the MedicAlert bracelet,” Ontario Minister of Health Promotion Jim Watson said in a release prepared for the event, which coincides with National Child Day.

MedicAlert is a registered charity with more than one million Canadian members. It has operated for more than 45 years.