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: food allergies among children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Today, one in 13 children has a food allergy. Insect sting reactions, while much rarer, affect almost 1 percent of children.
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.
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 they develop anaphylaxis. The more adults in your child’s life are aware of the allergy, the safer and healthier your child will be.
How to 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 them 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 you and the school’s staff to protect and provide for your child’s wellbeing. After all, awareness about one child’s needs helps keep other children with potential allergies safe, too.
Talk to school staff
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 they can understand that their teachers are going to help. 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 are you alerted, how your child is transported to an emergency medical center after a reaction, etc. Your child’s school likely has specific forms for an allergy plan. If they do not, ask your pediatrician’s office if they have them
Talk to your child’s pediatrician
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.
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, along with a plan for calling for emergency help
- phone numbers for both you and your child’s doctor
Anticipate and avoid triggers
Due 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.
Be sure to teach your child the importance of eating only the food you send to school with them—until they are able to read ingredients lists, they may inadvertently expose themselves 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.
You are your child’s greatest advocate, but you won’t be able to spend every second of the day with them, protecting him and preventing exposure. Instead, do everything you can so your child and other adults in their life are capable of protecting and treating them in the event of an allergy exposure.
You can purchase a medical alert bracelet or necklace for your child. (Some companies are making kid-friendly IDs. Check out AllerMates or Allerbling). Have them wear it at all times, especially if they don’t yet have the vocabulary to be able to explain to an adult all of his allergies.
Let your child carry an epinephrine auto-injector, such as Auvi-Q or EpiPen, at all times when they are old enough and capable of using it. If they carry 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 them 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.
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.