For some parents, the mere thought of milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, wheat, soy or nuts is enough to inspire a fair amount of anxiety. To most of us, these everyday foods don’t sound particularly dangerous. But if you have an allergic child, you know food allergies can be life-threatening.
The prevalence of food allergies among children in the U.S. is higher than previously believed, with 8 percent of children affected, according to a new study. The study, published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, revealed that among the 5.9 million children with food allergies, 39 percent have a history of severe reactions and 30 percent have multiple food allergies.
But here’s the good news: the danger of accidental exposure to foods can be reduced if parents work with schools to minimize risks. While staying safe at school requires planning, teachers and administrators are more conscious than ever of this growing health issue.
Here are some guidelines from Food Allergy Research and Education:
• Notify the school of your child’s allergies — in writing. Strict avoidance of food allergens must be the first line of defense in preventing a food allergic reaction. While epinephrine auto-injectors can be life-saving in the event of a severe reaction, every effort must first be made to avoid this medical emergency. • Work with staff to develop a plan to accommodate your child’s needs in all areas, including the classroom, the cafeteria, after-care sites, school-sponsored activities, and on the school bus. Because food allergy has become such an emerging health issue, many schools have already adopted and implemented food allergy management strategies. Find out what these strategies are. • Provide written medical documentation, instructions, and medications as directed by a physician. Include a photo of your child with the written instructions. • Speak with your child’s teachers about the role of food in the classroom. Determine whether a plan can be implemented so your child avoids exposure to food allergens. Such strategies may include having “no food sharing” or “no food trading” rules, providing the teacher with safe snacks for the entire class so your child can eat what everyone else does, and using non-food items for classroom projects, academic rewards, and in-classroom celebrations. • Educate your child in the self-management of his allergy, including how to recognize safe and unsafe foods, how to avoid exposure, symptoms of allergic reactions, how and when to tell an adult he may be having an allergy-related problem. • Provide properly labeled medications to the school and replace medications after use. You must provide the school with at least one epinephrine auto-injector, if prescribed. In fact, many parents provide at least two auto-injectors, in case a second dose is needed. • Know where your child’s epinephrine is stored, who has access to it, and who will administer the medication in the event of an emergency. This is critical to supporting your child’s health and well-being at school. MP
— More detailed suggestions for creating a specific plan for individual students are available from The Food Allergy Research & Education • foodallergy.org/section/guidelines.