Editor’s Note: This week’s Chambana Mom to Know is generously sponsored by The Carle Foundation. Mark your calendar’s for the ”Back to School with Food Allergies” event from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 9, at the Forum at Carle. Learn about common food allergies and how to deal with them at home and at school.
Amy Jessup grew up in Urbana, and is married to Josh, a Champaign firefighter, and has three children, the eldest starting kindergarten this year. Jessup works part-time as a nurse practitioner at Carle Convenient Care, and is the coordinator of Carle’s Food Allergy education program, where she offers one-on-one education with families, and free community education to create safer environments for those with food allergy. See why we think Amy Jessup is a Chambana Mom to Know!
Q: How did you get involved local food-allergy community ?
Jessup: When our second son experienced food allergy, our pediatrician, Dr. Hill, asked if I’d be interested in starting a food allergy-education program at Carle. After much thought and prayer, I saw that there was a great local need, and I had the skills and interest (in pediatrics and allergy) to start the program. The program is funded by an initial gift to the Carle Development Foundation, and is funded by the Carle Employee Giving Campaign. This has allowed me to branch into the community and offer free education. The goal of the community education event on Aug. 9 is to increase awareness of food allergy to the general public, as well as supporting families and educators of school-age children. The event also fulfills educators’ bi-annual need for food allergy education.
Q: Why is it important for the public at large to know about and understand food allergies?
Jessup: Research shows that now one in 12 school-age children have a food allergy, that’s nearly two per classroom! A child can die within minutes of being exposed to an allergen, and food allergy-related death is nearly 100 percent preventable when the Emergency Action Plan is followed. It is imperative for the general public, and especially anyone around children, to understand the basics of food allergy (what it is, how to identify and treat a reaction) because exposures are always accidents, they are never planned, and accidents surely happen.
Q: What has your life been like, dealing with food allergies in your kids?
Jessup: When our son was diagnosed with peanut allergy, I felt lost and overwhelmed. We definitely went through the grieving process of accepting the diagnosis, and decided we had to choose to empower ourselves and him someday as well, while not letting anxiety take over. It’s a delicate balance. Daily life requires vigilant label reading, watching for cross contamination of foods, and always having his Emergency Action Plan and epinephrine with him at all times. When he was 2, we taught him to ask, “Are there nuts in this?” and not to share food. Learning to be diligent was hard at first, but soon became easier and part of who we are.
Q: What can people do to help when it comes to food allergies?
Jessup: I think the best thing people can do is educate themselves on the basics of food allergy, so they can be aware and supportive of those around them with food allergy. Understanding how to recognize and treat a reaction with injectable epinephrine (which believe it or not, is very easy to do) can and will save a child’s life. There are also many non-research supported theories on food allergy which add to fear, so I recommend learning from research based programs like the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network or Food Allergy Initiative.
There are also five simple things you can teach your children to be a PAL (protect a life) from food allergy:
- Food allergies are serious. Don’t make jokes about them.
- Don’t share food with friends who have food allergies.
- Wash your hands after eating.
- Ask what your friends are allergic to, and help them avoid it.
- If a friend who has food allergies becomes ill, get help immediately!
Q: Do you think food allergies are more widespread than they used to be? Why or why not?
Jessup: The incidence of food allergies in the U.S. are on the rise. This conclusion is based on reports from allergists across the country, as well as on studies of allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. For example, a FAAN study that was conducted in 1997 and repeated in 2002 showed that peanut allergy had doubled in children during that five-year time span. Scientists don’t know why allergies (and other immunological diseases like asthma) are on the rise, but they’re trying to find out. One theory, called the hygiene hypothesis, holds that because children in our culture are exposed to fewer germs than our bodies are used to dealing with, the immune system, deprived of its customary full-time germ-fighting job, misidentifies certain foods as harmful.
Q: What advice would you offer parents who are coping with food allergies in their children?
Jessup: First, take a deep breath. You can do this! Parenting a child with food allergy requires one to be diligent and prepared , but you’ll get the hang of it! I recommend that they educate themselves from research-based sites. My favorite book is “Food Allergies For Dummies,” written by Dr. Robert Wood, one of the leading food allergy physicians/researchers. Have your doctor fill out the State of Illinois Emergency Action Plan. Join a support group so you can network with other parents. We have started a local support group that will meet every quarter. Send an email to CIFAST@hotmail.com if you would like to receive the e-mail updates.