As an allergy doctor, parents often ask me to help them convince schools to enforce nut-free policies.

And while I completely understand where they are coming from, I don’t believe banning nuts from schools is a fool-proof solution to protect kids with nut allergies. Let me explain why.

According to the latest research by the National Education Association in the US, 16% to 18% of kids with food allergies will experience an allergic reaction at school. And out of these kids, only 28% will require adrenalin.

Banning nuts does not make a difference

In another recent study that did a review of adrenalin administration episodes at schools between 2006 and 2011, they found that nut-free policies did not make any difference to protect children with nut allergies. The study found that only schools with designated nut-free tables had lower rates of accidental exposures.

Even in instances where kids have severe peanut allergies, it has been shown that they are unlikely to experience any severe reactions when they inhale or touch peanut particles. It’s also interesting to note that no school has ever documented anaphylactic reaction to peanut in saliva.

Beware of inconsistencies

But the main reason why I’m wary of supporting nut-free school policies is that it creates a false sense of security. There tend to be many inconsistencies in nut-free policies, such as differing rules against bringing nuts from home and rules against serving nuts at school.

The balance of opinion seems to be that there are more practical measures to consider. For example, hand washing or cleaning with alcohol cleaner can remove all traces of peanut. And enforcing a rule of no food-sharing, and peanut-free tables in canteens can also easily be implemented.

Awareness – and readiness – is key

When it comes to allergic reactions, it is mostly a lack of awareness that leads to the worst-case scenarios. That is why I would rather encourage schools to train their teachers to recognise the early signs of food allergic reactions. It is also essential to have autoinjectors readily available at schools and to ensure that all school personnel know how to use them.

So instead of proposing a ban on nuts at schools, it might be a better idea for parents to ensure schools train their teachers to recognise and accurately treat anaphylactic reactions. By implementing nut-free policies, schools are at risk of complacency, which can be much more dangerous to kids with allergies than the limited possibility of exposure.

Additional reading on why nut-free policies aren’t necessarily the answer:

The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of nut allergies. This article should by no means be used, or viewed, as a primary source for medical advice – please arrange for a personal consultation with your medical practitioner before making any decisions that could affect the wellbeing of you or your loved ones. Read our medical disclaimer for more information.

© 2018 | Dr Marinda McDonald | Practice number 0015393 | All rights reserved


Marinda McDonald

Dr Marinda McDonald has offered specialised treatments for allergies for most of her professional career. Read more about her on the home page of this website (allergydoc.co.za).