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Co Tyrone primary school bans conkers over 'nut allergy' fears for pupils

An allergy charity said banning conkers from playgrounds may be an "overreaction". Picture by Brendan Murphy
An allergy charity said banning conkers from playgrounds may be an "overreaction". Picture by Brendan Murphy An allergy charity said banning conkers from playgrounds may be an "overreaction". Picture by Brendan Murphy

FOR generations of children conkers were synonymous with playground fun in the new school year.

Headteachers' fears about the risk of injury when striking chestnuts together on strings have done much to curtail the game in recent times.

But now another health and safety concern is threatening the future of the pupils' pasttime – nut allergies.

A primary school in Co Tyrone has banned conkers because several pupils suffer from an allergy to nuts.

In its newsletter last week, Holy Family PS in Omagh said: "Contact with peanuts/nut derivatives can cause an unpleasant and potentially dangerous reaction.

"Please ensure your child does not bring any nuts/nut produce (e.g. Snickers, Nutella sandwich spread, etc) into school.

"There is also a potential risk from contact with horse chestnuts (conkers) so we ask pupils not to bring these into school either."

It's not uncommon for schools to ban nuts in food due to children's allergies, but banning conkers seems to be a more unusual step.

Dr James McIntosh, chief specialist in toxicology at food safety body Safefood, said: "This is the first case I have heard of schools banning conkers.

"Why would you ban the chestnuts where they don't actually eat conkers?

"I can't see why you would do it. I don't see what extra protection there would be from banning a game of conkers."

Dr McIntosh said an allergy for one type of nut does not necessarily mean you can't come in contact with all types, and it's rare for people in Ireland to have a specific chestnut allergy.

He also said a skin reaction to chestnuts is unlikely because of their "pretty impervious" exterior.

But he added: "It's really up to the parents of the child to do a risk assessment in collaboration with the school, what are the risky areas and what are the risky activities.

"Schools are generally safe environments for people with nut allergies."

Anaphylaxis Campaign, a charity supporting people with severe allergies, also said banning conkers could be an "overreaction".

"We can find no credible reports suggesting that conkers pose any risk to people with nut allergy," a spokeswoman said.

"We have heard a few anecdotal reports from people saying they have skin reactions to conkers when they handle conkers. Clearly if this happens, they should be avoided. No-one should be eating them as they are poisonous in their own right."

It is not known whether any pupils at the school have a specific chestnut allergy.

Holy Family Primary School did not reply when contacted yesterday for a comment.