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My kids have birthdays that fall during the school year, so when they hit school age, I couldn't wait to send them off with a big box of cupcakes to share on their big day. But their elementary school recently put the kibosh on that. Because of how common food allergies are for kids, all outside food has been banned from classroom parties at our school. Instead, we give out pencils, stickers or rubber balls.
Not surprisingly, we're now discovering that this might be overkill as some food allergies may be over-diagnosed. Currently, many children are identified as allergic to foods when in fact they may just be intolerant of them. (What's the difference? Food allergies happen when the immune system mistakes a food as harmful and creates antibodies to fight it. Symptoms run the gamut from itchy skin to hives to chest pain to nausea. Food intolerance is when a food either can't be digested by the body or doesn't agree with the digestive system, and can cause stomach pain, heartburn, diarrhea and vomiting.) To help doctors diagnose true allergies, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently issued its first-ever clinical guidelines, which call for a combination of a complete medical history, various lab tests and possibly a food challenge. (In the past, doctors typically relied on results from a skin prick or blood test to make their diagnosis.)
Of course, no parent is going to jump at giving their kid a food that might be cause an adverse reaction. But if a child is tested under the new guidelines and found to be intolerant of a food -- and not allergic -- then she could broaden her eating options and benefit from a more balanced diet. Who knows -- she might even get to enjoy a cupcake now and then.
What are the rules in your kid's classroom? Chime in below!