Preparing for your child’s first day of school is exciting and terrifying all at once. If your child has allergies, your back-to-school list just became a little more complicated. Parents of children with allergies will want to know what they can do to ensure the safety of their child. They will need to know what to do, what to provide, what the school’s procedures are when children experience allergic reactions. They will also want to know what reasonable modifications can be requested by the school. It can be overwhelming!
An “allergy” is a body’s immune response to a substance, perceived as harmful, causing it to become hypersensitive and resulting in specific symptoms. Most allergic reactions we see in school are caused by food allergies. The food allergies most common in infants and children are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and wheat.
The allergic reaction can involve the skin, mouth, eyes, lungs, heart, gut and brain. Some of the symptoms can include:
- Skin rash, itching, hives;
- Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat;
- Shortness of breath, trouble breathing, wheezing;
- Stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea;
- Feeling like something awful is about to happen.
Parents of children with allergies know that we should take all symptoms seriously. Sometimes allergy symptoms are mild, other times they can be severe; both can lead to anaphylaxis, a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
In addition to food allergies, other allergens that can lead to anaphylaxis include:
insect stings from bees, wasps, yellow jackets and fire ants.
Latex found in things such as balloons, rubber bands, hospital gloves.
Medicines, especially penicillin, sulfa drugs, insulin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Anaphylaxis is treated with epinephrine, by way of an Epi-pen. This is an auto-injector. Parents will want to have two: one for home and one to be kept at school. Remember, these symptoms usually show up right away, but can take up to two hours to present. Once the symptoms of the allergy are established, it must be immediately administered, then call 911. You can’t rely on antihistamines to treat anaphylaxis.
Here’s what you need to know to help the school keep your child safe.
- Inform and educate family, friends, the school and others who will be with your child about your child’s allergies.
- Contact the School; Meet with the Administrator and school nurse about your school’s plans and procedures for child allergies. Acquire the necessary school forms (examples):
- Medication Authorization forms; required if your child can administer their own medications or if the school staff stores or administers them (ex.: Epi-pen).
- Special Dietary Meals Accommodation form, needed if your child will be eating meals provided by the school.
- Emergency Action Plan (EAP) form, which informs caregivers what to do in the event of an allergic emergency.
- Visit your Doctor to get:
- Required prescriptions for emergency medications (epinephrine auto-injectors).
- Doctor signatures on all three of the above-mentioned forms.
- Meet with your district’s food services director.
- Ask what provisions are made for children with allergies.
- Ask how these children can request safe meal substitutions.
- Submit Special Dietary Needs Accommodation forms.
- BEFORE the first day of school, turn in forms and prescriptions:
- Medication Authorization forms
- Emergency Action Plan (EAP)
- Special Dietary Needs Accommodations Form
- NOTE: Epinephrine auto-injectors must be in the original package and labeled with your child’s name. Be sure these will not expire during the school year.
- Meet with your child’s teacher to discuss classroom management of food allergies:
- Find out what strategies they suggest to help your child avoid exposure to potential allergens (ex.: during classroom celebrations with food allergens).
- Talk about “No food sharing” rules.
- Ask about Field trips (Who carries medications? Can parents attend?).
- Ask what are their policies for alerting substitute teachers about children with food allergies?
- Teach your child how to keep themselves well:
- What to avoid.
- How to read labels.
- What to do if they are exposed to allergens.
- How to avoid allergens.
Sure, it’s scary, even for families without allergies. But with a little education and a few precautions, your child’s academic adventure can be wonderful and safe.