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Friday, February 3, 2023
ArlingtonCommentary: Education key in supporting youth with food allergies

Commentary: Education key in supporting youth with food allergies

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by BRANDON BRIGNER, for the Sun Gazette

As summer winds down, I begin to think about the transition back into the classroom.

This transition requires immense preparation when you have to avoid contact with life-threatening allergens. My allergies include egg, peanut and shellfish. Thankfully, I have years of practice.

I am going into my senior year at Washington-Liberty High School and while I am confident, I will be prepared, as some situations at school are more difficult when you have food allergies – for example, lunch and the cafeteria.

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Kids with severe food allergies learn they have to check the school’s menu in advance and ask: Are there allergy friendly food items on there for me? Most of us just opt to pack our own lunches.

I also have to be prepared when my friends want to go out for food after school. It’s imperative my friends know about my allergies and what do to if I have an anaphylactic attack. I’ve taught them how to administer an Epi-Pen.

All of this was much harder in elementary and middle school, where kids can be less understanding and sometimes even cruel. Kids with allergies put a lot of faith in the cafeteria staff, but you still have to keep an eye out to avoid cross contamination.

The biggest thing to remember is, not everyone knows or understands about food allergens. Even teachers. I am part of the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) teen advisory group, and we chat amongst ourselves about the daily struggles.

I have learned it’s important to share and educate others on how to be more compassionate to people who have food allergies. We often feel guilty about it. We know it affects everyone in the classroom and even social events like elementary-school birthday parties.

Next year, I go off to college. This will bring an entirely new set of challenges for me. Almost like hitting the reset button. I will be responsible for myself and I will have to “teach” new people in my life all about food allergies all over again.

My hope is that people can familiarize themselves with the difficulties that 32 million Americans – or about two students in every classroom – deal with every day. A great place to start is with FARE and their back-to-school resource hub, found at Foodallergy.org.

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