THE BLOG
12/01/2014 03:51 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

Food Allergies Are a Growing Public Health Concern, Not a Joke

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How do I explain to my nine year old son the humor in recent articles listing the 8th-worst reason flying is awful; those jerks/a**holes whose nut allergies have ruined peanuts on planes for everybody? I have been told to just dismiss it, laugh it off; after all, it's meaningless. Of the top 99 reasons listed that make flying awful, the 8th-worst reason in the article published in Yahoo! and the Thrillist is not a joke to me because my son was born with a life-threatening peanut allergy.

It is not that the words are so offensive that makes it alarming. It is that these words came from a reporter and were approved by an editor from a mainstream media outlet. I ask you if you changed #8 by substituting a person in a wheelchair, or someone who is blind, autistic, deaf, has cerebral palsy, or any other person who needs extra assistance in flying, would we all dismiss these articles as harmless and meaningless then? Would the mainstream media even dare to publish such a horrific comment about someone with a visible disability? The world is a very dangerous place when statements like this are perpetuated and NO ONE says anything. We must not ignore or dismiss these comments as funny.

Since when is it acceptable to make fun of children or adults with life-threatening food allergies in the mainstream media? Food allergies are a unique disability because they are invisible, but they can kill. As part of the peanut patch study at Mt. Sinai, my son recently had to undergo a peanut challenge. At dose six, my nine-year old began vomiting, said he felt like someone was strangling him, looked up at me and asked me not to let him die today. Unfortunately, this was not the first time he had to say that. And it was NOT FUNNY either time to hear my child in fear for his life. I will not dismiss these recent articles as meaningless jokes. When a reporter makes a comment like this, he puts my child and others like him at risk because it perpetuates the myth that food allergies are not serious.

Food allergic passengers are at risk every time they fly.

To date, there are no federal guidelines to protect food allergic passengers on airplanes. Decisions to assist food allergic passengers are inconsistent amongst the airlines and often are made on a case-by-case basis by individual flight crews. How can a child's safety be dependent on the mood of a flight crew?

There are many anecdotal reports of families being kicked off flights for asking for an announcement, mocked by flight attendants, and ridiculed by other passengers. There also exists evidence of reactions taking place in the air, most notably in the last few months when planes have had to make emergency landings. As we approach the holiday season when so many families travel, to trivialize a potentially fatal allergy is irresponsible. There is an increased stress level to flying with a food allergic child, and having to navigate a system with no regulations in place to mitigate the risk of a reaction is something that I would wish on no other parent. To worry on the ground is one thing, but at 35,000 feet, your choices can be very limited. It is terrifying, and many food allergic families choose not to fly.

Food allergies are a growing public health concern in the United States. We need to take the time to ask the difficult questions about nuts on planes, the lack of federal guidelines, and the systematic legal bullying of food allergic families.

Please do not let it be an inevitable death in the air that prompts the discussion. 15 million Americans have food allergies. This is not an "if" scenario, it's a "when" until there is a fatality on a plane. We have a unique opportunity to address this issue now, because I know the reporter and editor won't be able find this issue so funny after someone has died.