By Allergen Bureau

Study Shows a Surprising Number of Kids Suffer Allergic Reactions at School

One in every 20 children with a food allergy in Ireland suffers an accidental allergic reaction while in a school or pre-school setting each year, according to the findings of a new study.  

The study 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. 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. 

While many schools prohibit pupils from bringing in food containing nuts on the premises in order to protect students with nut allergies, six out of seven allergic reactions to nuts occurred in schools which had nut bans in place. Also of concern was the finding 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. 

The study showed 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 with one each to Pancake Tuesday and a bake sale. Reactions to cow’s milk accounted for 50 per cent of the incidents in such settings.  

Primary school-aged children were found to be twice as likely to experience an adverse reaction than secondary school students.  

Unlike other countries, Ireland does not have government policy on the management of food allergies in school or pre-school childcare settings. However, the study authors conclude that the incidence of accidental allergic reactions was equivalent to the international experience. 

Reference: Crealey M, Byrne A. Factors influencing accidental food allergic reactions in schools and preschools. Ir J Med Sci. 2023 Jun 7. doi: 10.1007/s11845-023-03414-6. 

Additional reporting: See the website