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Schools On Red Alert For Children With Allergies

News Release 9 May 2005

SCHOOLS GO ON RED ALERT FOR CHILDREN WITH ALLERGIES

Hundreds of children around the country will don red clothes for Allergy New Zealand's inaugural "Red Alert Day" in support of their school mates who suffer from severe allergies.

Red Alert Day is being held as part of Allergy Awareness Week, from 8--14 May 2005, to raise awareness about the prevalence of severe allergies in New Zealand and the impact they have on people's lives.

Participating schools throughout the country are nominating a special fundraising 'mufti day' during the awareness week when kids are encouraged to wear red and make a gold coin donation to help raise much needed funds for Allergy New Zealand.

One in 170 school children and one in 1000 adults experience at least one severe, life--threatening, allergic reaction (1). Despite these statistics, many Kiwis would be unprepared if they, or someone close to them had an anaphylactic emergency (2).

Inga Stünzner, spokesperson for Allergy New Zealand, says over the last 10 years there has been a huge increase in the prevalence of allergic disease in New Zealand, especially among children and young adults.

"Red Alert Day will help children, and the general public, understand what it's like to feel different because of living with severe allergies, while also highlighting the importance of taking the condition seriously," she says.

"Children with allergies often feel isolated and different because their peers don't understand their conditions, so much of our work at Allergy New Zealand involves helping schools create a safe environment for them.

"Through education about the different types of allergies, what triggers them, what symptoms to look for and how to treat them, we can help ensure these children are well supported, and that their peers, teachers and parents feel more comfortable about including them in social activities and not fearing what they don't know."

Kiwi rugby legend and committed supporter of Allergy New Zealand, Kees Meeuws, has suffered from environmental allergies most of his life, and his daughter Eva suffers from both environmental and food allergies.

"For me as a sportsman and for us as a family, the whole process of educating ourselves about our allergies and the proper management and prevention of them has been a major task," he says.

"For allergy sufferers, getting the most out of life and reaching their potential is not that easy, particularly for allergic kids. I am totally behind Allergy New Zealand's efforts to ensure that these kids can lead wonderful, normal lives, reaching their full potential safely, and with as much support as possible," says Mr Meeuws.

The most common causes for severe allergic reactions are food (61%), stinging insects (20%) and medications (8%) (3). Symptoms include difficulty/noisy breathing, swelling of the tongue, a swelling tightness in the throat, difficulty talking or a hoarse voice, wheezing or a persistent cough, loss of consciousness and/or collapsing or becoming pale and floppy.

Allergy specialist Dr Vincent Crump says the people most at risk are those with a history of anaphylaxis or generalised allergic reactions that also have one or more of the following: asthma, specific allergic triggers like nuts and stinging insect allergies, co--morbid conditions such as ischaemic heart disease, or limited access to emergency medical care.

"Anaphylaxis can have a very rapid onset, without any warning, so it's imperative for sufferers and those close to them to recognize the symptoms and get treatment as quickly as possible. Immediate administration of adrenaline can be life--saving, which is why it is common for sufferers to carry adrenalin injectors, such as EpiPen, with them at all times," says Dr Crump.

He adds that allergy--prone people should be aware of the eight foods that account for 90% of allergic reactions: peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, etc.), fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, wheat and soy. Almost any food can cause allergic reactions, however, and while less common, these allergies are no less devastating for sufferers.

Currently, there is no cure for food allergy. Avoidance of the food is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.

Allergy Awareness Week is part of a global awareness campaign, with World Allergy Awareness Week starting 8--14 May.

Ms Stünzner, from Allergy New Zealand, says that all funds raised during Allergy Awareness Week will go towards helping the organisation provide educational resources to the community so they can adequately and safely support children with severe allergies and their families. All New Zealanders, not just school children, are being encouraged to show their support by wearing red during the awareness week.

ENDS

About Allergy New Zealand

Allergy New Zealand is a voluntary not?for--profit organisation supported by a medical and scientific panel of New Zealand's leading Allergy and Immunology specialists. Their mission is to improve the quality of life for people with allergies and their families, through support, education and information, and to act as an advocate in all aspects of allergy. Allergy New Zealand offers a wide range of services, including practical advice and emotional support to help with the traumas and anxieties of day?to--day living with allergy. They also provide regional support networks, e--support groups, tips, hints, warnings, access to expert medical specialists, and the latest science and evidence--based, accurate information on all aspects of allergy, including managing and reducing symptoms and recognising and avoiding allergy triggers. Allergy New Zealand works with food industry, medical and health professionals and other consumer groups to increase awareness and education on the impact of allergy.

Footnotes

(1) Mullins RJ. Anaphylaxis -- risk factors for recurrence. Clin Exp Allergy 2003;33:1033--1040.

(2) Definition of anaphylaxis -- a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction which evolves rapidly and is characterized by one or more symptoms/signs of respiratory and/or cardiovascular involvement and involvement of other systems such as skin and/or gastrointestinal tract.

(3) Mullins RJ. Anaphylaxis: risk factors for recurrence. Clin Exp Allergy 2003;33:1033--1040

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