One in every 20 children with a food allergy in Ireland suffers an accidental allergic reaction while in a school or preschool setting each year, according to a new study.
Research carried out at Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin examined the experience of 521 children with a confirmed food allergy over a 12-month period.
It recorded 24 cases of accidental allergic reactions including five cases of children suffering a potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Reactions to cow’s milk accounted for 50 per cent of such incidents among children attending preschools, crèches and nurseries.
The researchers say the study highlighted the ineffectiveness of “nut bans” in schools as all but one of seven allergic reactions to nuts occurred in schools which prohibited pupils from bringing in food containing nuts.
It found that 5 per cent of children with a food allergy in a preschool setting suffered an accidental allergic reaction. The rate for children with similar allergies in schools was marginally lower at 4.5 per cent.
However, the study, the findings of which were published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science, said many of the recorded reactions identified were “likely avoidable.”
It found half of the reactions could be attributed to human error or the failure to follow basic procedures. Two cases were linked to a birthday party, one to Pancake Tuesday and another to a bake sale.
In the majority of cases, the child was responsible for eating the food themselves but teachers, parents and friends had given the food to the affected child in five incidents.
Researchers said schools were the third most common location for children to suffer an accidental allergic reaction after their own home and food establishments. Primary school-aged children were found to be twice as likely to experience an adverse reaction than secondary school students.
The research found that none of the four children attending primary school who reported having an anaphylactic shock were administered adrenaline by school staff. Two were given adrenaline by parents on their arrival at the school, while one received it at the emergency department of a hospital.
One of the co-authors of the report, Miranda Crealey, said almost 5 per cent of young children in the Republic have a food allergy.
“It can therefore be estimated that in every classroom or childcare room, there is at least one child with a food allergy,” said Dr Crealey.