Whether by accident or from medical testing, thousands of children and their parents learn of a potentially life-threatening allergy each year. The number of children receiving these diagnoses is growing: According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among school-aged children increased 18 percent in the 10-year time span between 1997 and 2007. (6) Now, one in 13 children has a severe food allergy (1). The numbers for insect allergies, while not as high as food allergies, are growing, too.
While most reactions to an allergen are mild and can be handled with medicine or rest, some reactions can be severe—even deadly. Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction to food, medication, or insect venom, can be life-threatening if not treated quickly (7). If your child has a history of anaphylaxis or has severe reactions to foods, medicines, or insect bites, it’s important you meet with his teachers, school support staff, and administrators to establish a plan for keeping your child safe and helping him recover should he develop anaphylaxis. The more adults in your child’s life are aware, the safer and healthier your child will be.
Develop a Plan
During an average school day, your child comes into contact with many adults—teachers, principals, aides, lunchroom staff, transportation staff, and coaches. All of these adults can and should be a part of a plan to help protect your child from potentially deadly allergens. Think of your child’s allergy action plan as a partnership—a commitment between the school’s staff and you to protect and provide for your child’s well being. After all, awareness about one child’s needs helps keep other children with potential allergies safe, too. (2, 3, 4)
Before the start of the school year (or as soon as your child is diagnosed), call your child’s school and schedule an appointment with the principal and teachers who see your child most often. If necessary, have your child attend the meeting, too, so he can understand that his teachers are going to help him. Find out which of the faculty and staff at your school are trained to administer medication in the event of an anaphylactic reaction. Also, ask about your school’s allergy emergency plan—who administers the medication, when you are alerted, how your child is transported to an emergency medical center after a reaction, etc. Have your pediatrician provide detailed information about your child’s allergy, how much medicine he needs in the event of a reaction, and any helpful details that will make your child safer while at school. (2, 3, 4)
Make sure the allergy plan includes:
- a list of what your child is allergic to, such as tree nuts, peanuts, or insect stings
- the symptoms your child exhibits when having a reaction
- lingo your child might use when he’s describing an allergic reaction (how he feels when he’s experiencing a reaction)
- a plan of action—which medicine should be given for each symptom, the correct dosage, and who should administer it
- the phone numbers of both you and your child’s doctor
- a plan for calling for emergency medical help (4)
Anticipate and Avoid Triggers
Thanks to the uptick in food allergies in school-age children, many schools and cafeterias are working to keep the most common food allergens, such as peanuts, off their lunchroom menus. However, they cannot anticipate all food allergies. For that reason, it might be best to provide your child with a lunch and snack from home. (4, 5)
Be sure to teach your child the importance of eating only the food you send with him—until he is able to read ingredients lists, he may inadvertently expose himself to a potentially deadly allergen. If your child is particularly sensitive to tree nuts or peanuts, ask about the possibility of making the school’s lunchroom and your child’s classroom a nut-free zone. If your child’s classmates are allowed to eat nut-containing food, they may inadvertently share the food or touch your child’s skin, which could cause a reaction. (5)
If your child’s allergy is to insect stings, send bottles of bug repellent spray to school. Have your child spray himself before going outside for recess or class.
You are your child’s greatest advocate, but you won’t be able to spend every second of the day with him, protecting him and preventing exposure. Instead, do everything you can so your child and other adults in his life are capable of protecting and treating him in the event of an allergy exposure.
- Wear ID. Purchase a medical alert bracelet or necklace for your child. (Some companies are making kid-friendly IDs. Check out AllerMates or AllerBling). Have him wear it at all times, especially if he does not yet have the vocabulary to be able to explain to an adult all of his allergies.
- Carry medicine. Let your child carry an epinephrine auto-injector, such as Auvi-Q or EpiPen, at all times when he is old enough and capable of using it. If he carries one to school, make sure to let your child’s teacher, healthcare professionals, and administrators know. Replace the epinephrine auto-injector before it expires so your child carries active medicine with him at all times. Keep another dose of medicine with the school’s front office so administrators or healthcare professionals can find it quickly if it needs to be administered. (4)
- Understand your child’s abilities and limitations. What once made sense for a second grader may not make sense for a high school freshman. As children grow older, they’re more capable of recognizing the potential for an allergen exposure. Review your child’s allergy plan every few years, if not every year, updating any medical information, including changing allergies and medicines. (4)