Food allergies affect approximately one in 13 kids. That means that in the average classroom, there are about two students who are coping with some form of food allergy. Of these students, nearly 40 percent have a history of severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis. Parents, teachers, and school officials need to be aware of the potentially life-threatening situations that can arise and be ready to handle them should they strike.
Here, our board-certified allergists offer advice and resources for allergy- and asthma-sensitive kids and back-to-school preparedness.
- Request a meeting with the school nurse. Often, the nurse is the most experienced and best-trained staff member when it comes to medical emergencies. One of the first things you should do is meet with the nurse to explain your child’s allergy or asthma symptoms.
- Share your emergency care plan. In conjunction with the nurse and teachers, share the emergency care plan you use for your family. Make sure all staff who works with your child is aware of this plan.
- Share pictures of typical reactions your child has. If your child’s teacher has not cared for kids with severe allergies, it could be helpful to share pictures of what typical allergic reactions look like.
- Speak with school lunch staff. Most schools have electronic systems for tracking lunch purchases. Ask that a notification or alert be included on your child’s profile. This notifies lunch personnel of your child’s allergy status and helps ensure he or she isn’t accidentally served foods he or she reacts to.
- Keep an epinephrine injector at school. For parents in Florida, schools can keep non-student specific epinephrine pens stocked for children who suffer from anaphylactic reactions at school. However, every child with a severe food or insect venom allergy (i.e. to bees, wasps, fire ant, etc…) should have their own prescription for an auto injector that can be kept on hand at school. We recommend EpiPen, Auvi-Q or Adrenaclick (generic). You can also check out our patient education page for info on proper use of EpiPens.
- Use safety tattoos for notifying staff. You probably don’t need these for long-term use, but for the beginning of the school year (or other times when your child will be with new care providers), these safety tattoos can be extremely helpful in making sure people are aware of your child’s allergies.
- Have your child wear a medical alert bracelet. Especially for children at risk for severe allergic reactions, this is a better option than the safety tattoos. They are also helpful for EMTs who might respond in case of a medical emergency. Also, for your fashion-conscious kids, medical bracelets can be made like stylish jewelry.
- Create a “safe food box.” It’s common for classrooms to have snacks that may cause issues for your child. Create a safe food box that can be kept with the teacher to substitute for your child with severe allergic reactions.
- Ask for a list of birthday party dates. If your child’s classroom celebrates birthdays, it is possible to ask for celebration dates in advance and whether there will be dangerous treats available. Nowadays most treats have allergen-free alternatives that can be substituted for your child to ensure they don’t feel left out.
- If you have the flexibility, be a “classroom parent.” This would give you a little more advance notice on events going on in the school and classroom. Also, volunteering in the PTA and on field trips can help you monitor your child (and other children that migh have allergies).
- Ask school administrators to limit or not use your child’s classroom for after school activities. Sometimes schools have to use rooms for after-school activities or to support outside groups. Ask that your child’s room not be used for these activities. While there is no guarantee the administration can honor your request, it could help to limit allergens brought into your child’s classroom.
- Find out your school’s procedures for limiting allergens on buses and transportation vehicles. Determine if the policies and procedures are appropriate for your child. In some instances, you might be best served by transporting your child to and from school yourself. Most districts have a “no food” policy on their buses unless medically necessary (i.e., a diabetic child with low blood sugar). Some policies might include having an adult on the bus who is trained in administering epinephrine or ensuring special seating arrangements.
- Request advance notice of all field trips. Your child’s allergies needn’t prevent him or her from attending educational and fun field trips. Having advance notice gives you a chance to prepare and address any allergy concerns.
- Ask to speak with the kids in your child’s class. Unfortunately, bullying occurs for all sorts of things, and kids with allergies aren’t immune to bullies. Ask the teacher if you can address your child’s class to help them understand what allergies are and what happens to your child if he or she has a reaction. This won’t prevent all bullying, but it’s a good way to address issues ahead of time. If speaking to the class isn’t possible, allow the teacher to address the class about your child’s allergies (without giving too much personal information). For younger classes, a great little book to share is Binky Goes Nuts — check with your child’s school or local public library to see if it’s available.
- Work with your child on how to self manage his or her allergies. Older kids need to learn how to manage their allergies and advocate for themselves. When you feel it’s age appropriate, make sure your child knows to carry their medicine at all times and how to self-administer epinephrine if appropriate.
The good news for parents is that schools are becoming more aware of kids with severe food allergies and the actions to take to keep them safe. But it’s still important for you to be your child’s number-one advocate. Follow these tips to make sure you, your child and his or her school are ready for the coming school year!
If you suspect your child has allergies or asthma and would like to have him or her evaluated, contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified allergy and asthma specialists. We have four convenient allergy clinics in Jacksonville.
photo courtesy US Dept of Education