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NewsCenter Extra - The Scare of Your Life: Severe food allergies on the rise

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- (KTTC) "I felt helpless. I work at Saint Mary's Hospital so I got the call at work that he was being brought to Saint Marys."

Kristyn Maixner had just received one of the worst phone calls a mother can get. Her second grader, Noah, had become unresponsive after eating lunch in the school cafeteria.

But Noah's crisis began the day before the phone call.

"Noah came home from school on a Thursday with hives. And we brought him to the doctor and they weren't sure what was causing it but gave us a prescription for an EpiPen just in case," Maixner said.

An EpiPen is an epinephrine auto-injector is a small device that dispenses medicine through a needle during a life-threatening allergy attack.

"I sent one to school with him the next day just in case he would have a reaction, but he'd never known to be allergic to anything before," she said.

It couldn't have been better timing.

"And the next day, he got disoriented in the bathroom. And he rapidly declined. They lost a pulse, he wasn't breathing."

"They had to call the ambulance and she used the EpiPen on me," said her son, Noah.

Cori Jennings is the nurse at Noah's school, Triton Elementary. She administered the Epi Pen that saved Noah's life.

"We have put them in a binder so we aren't fumbling around and losing seconds," Jennings said.

She's been a school nurse for almost a decade and says severe allergies are at an all-time high.

"The allergies have increased since I started working as a school nurse," she said.

We skyped with Doctor Allan Stillman, an allergy and asthma specialist out of Minneapolis.

"There has been a significant increase in the development of food allergies to food substances. Often as much as doubling over a 5 year period," says Doctor Allan Stillman, an allergy and asthma specialist out of Minneapolis.

He says the reason is because of extreme efforts to decrease bacteria exposure. He says that it has resulted in under developed immune systems, which make it difficult for the body to detect good and bad bacteria.

The sharp increase in severe food allergies is changing the way schools are viewing snacks and lunches.

Kim Olson has a strict no -peanut, no tree-nut policy in her classroom.

"In my first year of teaching, snacks and treats weren't really something I thought of. But now, there's so many more allergies per year," Olson said.

She sent out a letter to all of the parents of her students, advising them not to pack snacks or treats with nuts in them.

"It's really important to know that everyone's safe and we include everyone," she added.

The letter includes "safe snacks" for the classroom, and Kim says students help out too.

"They're very aware of it and they're always checking and asking."

Nurse Jennings is working to keep kids with unknown allergies safe too.

"I'm actually in the process of getting a generic EpiPen to keep here because of the unknowns," Jennings said.

Because sometimes, that first reaction could be the last.

"Had Noah not had his own EpiPen at school that day his outcome may have been very different," added Maixner.

But now, Noah knows what ingredients to avoid and how to use his epi pen all on his own.

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