It was lunch, that most hectic of times in my Pre-K classroom. The children had just finished eating the main course, and their dessert waited invitingly on paper towels. Brownies! What had we done to deserve those? And on a Tuesday no less!
After they were given the signal, the kids lunged to their tables. Some of my better eaters devoured their brownies in a single bite. I swooped in fast enough to stop one of my allergy students from grabbing the treat, briskly saying, “It has eggs. Let’s get one of your cookies.” Satisfied that everyone could sit still for one minute, I went to pick out a story.
Then I heard it: sobs accompanied by shrieks of “Eggs! Eggs?! I allergic to eggs!”
My antennae go up whenever I hear the word “allergic” spoken in my classroom. My head snapped around, and I confronted one of my blubbering charges. We handled the issue in the room and sorted it out with the student’s parents. Nothing unsafe had happened, thank God.
But what if it had? I have epi-pens in my safety backpack; some of my students’ allergies are classified as “severe.” Every lunch and snack time is potentially harrowing. Our school does a wonderful job of labeling allergens on our menus, but I still find myself watching my “allergy kids” with an eagle eye.
One of the questions I am asked most commonly as a teacher is, “Where do these allergies come from?” It seems that parents, administrators, and people who casually read the news wonder why so many children can’t eat peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, wheat, and so on.
Gwen Smith, writer for the site Allergic Living, offers some possible answers to this question. The experts say that it has to do with our immune reactions as babies and young children, but our environment likely influences whether we have allergies or not. Air pollution has been put forth as a cause of allergies and asthma.
Then there’s the “hygiene theory.” Epidemiologist David Strachan summarized it in 1989, when he conducted a study of over 17,000 British children. Strachan “found that youngsters who had older siblings and were exposed to more infections and bacteria early in life were less likely to develop hay fever or eczema. Writing in that same pivotal year of 1989, Strachan had theorized that smaller family sizes and higher levels of hygiene in modern Western homes may have been contributing directly to the increased prevalence of allergy.”
I’m hoping to explore this topic further in subsequent posts, but if you’re itching to read more (pun intended), check out Allergic Living’s article Why So Many Allergies- Now?