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"Our schools need to be better prepared for dealing with food allergies."

I’m used to hearing about people dying from their food allergies. Every week or so, I am alerted to a death resulting from food allergies because my son is allergic to egg and nuts, so I receive all the horrible news through the groups and social media sites I am a member of.

My first-born, Philip, has been suffering from food allergies for 11 years.

There’s an over-representation of young men who die from food allergies, however most are in the US so for some reason, I’m relieved. If a food allergy death happens in Australia, it makes the threat to my son all too real.

The death of eight-year-old Marcus Terranova at St Ives North After-School Care due to an undiagnosed food allergy has haunted me for the past two years. He was around the same age as my son was at the time of his death. His carers thought he was suffering from an asthma attack after playing after-school sports. Even Marcus thought it was an asthma attack.

It wasn’t. It was an undiagnosed food allergy and it killed him.

Philip has been suffering from food allergies his entire life. At his most recent visit to hospital we were told his allergies are worsening, and he’ll never grow out of them as we had hoped. Article continues after this video.

Marcus’ father John Terranova doesn’t hold the after-school care facility responsible. Nobody does. They gave him his Ventolin but by the time they realised Marcus was in real trouble and the asthma medication wasn’t working, it was much too late.

In the wake of his son’s tragic death, Mr. Terranova is calling for better training for school and childcare staff, better training for those who prepare food for children and increased testing of children at risk of food allergies. He told the Fairfax:

When your child is first diagnosed as having allergies I think there then needs to be a management plan for that child.

He was seeing a dermatologist but the connection between his eczema, asthma and the allergy was not investigated. The focus was always on the asthma. Somewhere along the line someone should have joined the dots.

When there is a family history of eczema, asthma and food allergies, the risk of your own child having food allergies is high. The way food allergy testing and management is run in Australia is a recipe for complete disaster. It’s patchy and under-thought.

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It’s completely and totally inadequate.

ALL children should undergo food allergy testing, preferably before they begin solids. It’s a harmless ‘skin prick’ test. Then, children deemed high risk such as those who have had eczema or asthma, should undergo regular allergy testing. It should be covered by Medicare. The fact this hasn’t yet happened astounds me, particularly considering the fact that one in 10 babies born here will have a food allergy and many of those babies will carry those allergies into adulthood.

Marcus' dad John told Fairfax they had no idea his food allergies were deadly. "Unless you have regular checks you could have a potential time bomb ticking away. We didn't know that his allergies had probably gotten progressively worse. Had we known we would have had an allergy management plan."

Then we have to train all teachers, school staff and child care workers about food allergies, how to prevent them by avoiding high risk foods and how to treat allergic reactions using life-saving EpiPens.

And we need nurses in all schools. Real nurses. Not office admin staff who also run the sick bay and have attended one first aid session. Someone who knows the seven different ways food allergies present, and will not hesitate to administer the EpiPen BEFORE calling the ambulance or parent.

The order should be:

  • EpiPen
  • Ambulance
  • Parent phone call

Here's the thing nobody every tells you about food allergies. After a child has eaten the food they are allergic to, there is a very small window of time in which to administer life-saving medication which normally comes in the form of an EpiPen. If you take a wait-and-see approach, it's often too late.

This was the experience of a family in the US whose daughter suffered from a severe peanut allergy. Her parents were doctors and had gone to camp with her. Even though the girl spat out the dessert as soon as she realised it had peanuts in it, and despite the fact her parents were doctors, they took a wait-and-see approach. By the time they gave her one and two and three EpiPens, it was too late.

My son suffered from a severe reaction last November. I didn't give him his EpiPen. His GP had mentioned that he thought Philip was too little and the large dose of adrenaline could cause him to have a heart attack, so I hesitated. Luckily for Philip, he recovered from the reaction on his own. When I told his allergy doctor what the GP had said, he shook his had in total frustration.

GPs need proper food allergy training too.

My heart aches for Marcus' parents when they received the call saying he was having an asthma attack, only to arrive and find ambulance workers frantically trying to revive him and staff and friends in a state of total shock. I'm so glad they are doing what they can to try and increase the diagnosis and improve the treatment of food allergies.

I really hope that this time we all listen.

Do you have someone close to you who suffers from food allergies? How do they manage it on a day-to-day basis?

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