My story about the sudden death of 18-month-old Linus Chalupa due to an allergic reaction he had to food at his babysitter’s house was buried on page 5B of Saturday’s Iowa Today section. But the importance of the story to parents and caregivers alike should have warranted it front-page attention. Food allergies — especially those to wheat and nuts — need to be taken seriously.

As I wrote in my story, about 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies. Between 100 and 200 die from them each year, according to Food and Drug Administration statistics. I talked to Miriam Landsman, executive director of the University of Iowa’s National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice, who said parents and child-care providers must communicate about children’s food allergies and have documents on hand outlining foods they cannot eat. Caregivers for children with food allergies also should be able to identify signs of allergic reactions and have the appropriate medication, epinephrine, on hand to counter them, she said.

We may never know if his babysitter knew Linus was having a reaction or if the parents provided her with medication to treat it since they all refused to talk to me directly about the case. Whatever the cause or treatment, however, knowing why this little boy died will hopefully save lives in the future.

Most food reactions begin soon after ingestion and last less than a day, affecting any four of the following body systems. Here’s how to tell if you or your child is having an allergic reaction:

  1. Skin. Skin reactions are the most common type of food allergy reactions. They can take the form of itchy, red, bumpy rashes (hives), eczema, or redness and swelling around the mouth or face.
  2. Gastrointestinal system. Symptoms can take the form of belly cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  3. Respiratory system. Symptoms can range from a runny or stuffy nose, itchy, watery eyes, and sneezing to the triggering of asthma with coughing and wheezing.
  4. Cardiovascular system. A person may feel lightheaded or faint.

A doctor will be able to correctly diagnose a food allergy and prescribe shots of epinephrine to keep on hand in case of severe allergic reaction.

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