Keep Your Child Safe from Food Allergy At School
Find out what schools are doing to protect kids with dangerous food allergies and how you can keep your child with food allergy safe.
Your child with a dangerous food allergy is nearing school age and you are concerned.
- Will my child be safe at school?
- Will he be exposed to other kids' foods?
- Do teachers and staff know what to do in case my child has an allergic reaction or goes into anaphylaxis?
These are important questions. First, know that your child is not alone. More than 3 million kids in the U.S. have food allergies. Since a federal law was passed in 2004, most states let children carry both asthma and anaphylaxis medications with them to school. Before this, medications could be confiscated as part of a "zero tolerance" policy against drugs. More schools are also creating action plans to handle allergic reactions.
What is anaphylaxis?
The immune system normally protects against foreign invaders, like bacteria or viruses. In an allergic reaction, the immune system overreacts against normally harmless substances. This includes "antigens" or proteins from food. The body releases chemicals, such as histamine, which causes hives.
An anaphylactic reaction is an extreme allergic response. Within minutes after exposure to an antigen, the child would start to have trouble breathing. His or her blood pressure drops and the child may lose consciousness. Call 9-1-1 right away if you see a child with these symptoms.
Epinephrine is a drug that acts quickly to improve breathing and restore blood pressure. But the effects are temporary. Using an epi-pen (syringe and needle carrying epinephrine) can buy precious time, about 10 minutes, to allow for emergency assistance to arrive.
What should I do to keep my child safe at school?
Months before your child enters preschool - or as soon as you learn you child is allergic - meet with your child's doctor, then the school nurse.
- Create an allergic reaction action plan with your child's doctor. The plan provides written documentation of your child's allergic symptoms and how to treat them. The plan also includes:
- A photo of the child
- All food allergies
- Emergency contact information
An example of such a plan is called the "Food Allergy Action Plan," from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
- Make sure your child's school has a plan both to prevent and treat allergic reactions. After you give the school nurse the action plan you wrote with your child's doctor, make sure the school plan meets your child's needs in the classroom, the cafeteria, after-care programs, during school-sponsored activities and on the school bus. The school should:
- Train staff to recognize allergic symptoms and to give epinephrine if prescribed
- Have practice drills
- Assure that there is always someone available to give the shot, including during field trips
What should I teach my child to self-manage his/her food allergy?
Teach your child:
- Safe and unsafe foods
- Ways to avoid exposure to unsafe foods
- Symptoms of allergic reactions
- How and when to tell an adult they may be having an allergic reaction
- How to read food labels
What should my child do to keep safe?
- Don't trade food with others.
- Don't eat anything with unknown ingredients or known to contain any allergen.
- Tell an adult if they are being harassed or bullied about their allergies.
- Tell an adult right away if they eat something they think may contain the food to which they are allergic.
Also, it is strongly advised that anyone who is susceptible to anaphylactic reactions to foods (or to any other allergen, or to bee stings) wear a medical alert bracelet. Keep your child's medications up-to-date and properly labeled.