Safety alert over response to children's food allergies

Minimum safety standards should be brought in to Britain's schools to cope with the rising number of children with food allergies, doctors have warned.

About 50,000 people in England suffer an anaphylactic shock in their lifetime and a third of those in children occur for the first time at school, but teachers are unprepared, they say.

The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) has launched a Food Allergies campaign to raise awareness of the threat posed by anaphylaxis in children and ensure schools are ready to deal with life threatening events.

The most common allergies in children are to eggs, cow's milk and nuts. In the UK, anaphylaxis causes about 20 deaths a year in adults and children from heart attacks or suffocation due to swelling of the mouth or throat.

Hospital admissions for the condition increased from about 300 in 1990 to more than 3,500 in 2009, a more than 10-fold increase.

Food allergies affect 17 million people in Europe, with 3.5 million aged under 25. Among children, one of the fastest growing allergies is to nuts. Some studies suggest allergies to peanuts have more than doubled in a decade, affecting more than one in 100 children. Allergy to nuts causes half of all life threatening allergic reactions in the UK.

The EAACI is to publish International Minimum Standards for the Child at School to ensure the same procedures are laid down everywhere and teachers who switch schools do not become confused. The focus will be on primary schools – by secondary level affected children have learnt how to recognise symptoms of an attack and carry their own medicines.

Lindsey McManus, deputy chief executive of Allergy UK, said: "The present arrangement is that schools in the UK work out a protocol with parents of individual children with allergies so teachers know who they are ... the problem is different schools have different protocols and different ways of going about things. Some may have a list of children with their photos in the staff room. There is no standardised way of educating staff."

The campaign will also seek to standardise food labelling which leads to confusion and increases risk for allergy sufferers, the EAACI says. Labels such as "May contain nuts" are not regulated and different food manufacturers employ different criteria when using them. By representing different levels of contamination they imply different levels of risk.

Allergy to nuts causes half of all life threatening allergic reactions in the UK

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