According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids’ food allergies surged by 50 percent in the U.S. between 1997 and 2011. Peanut or tree nut allergies are reported to have tripled in that same time period. Today, an average of two children per school classroom have allergies.
Some food allergies are irritating but mild; others are life-threatening. If your child has food allergies, you have probably learned to manage them at home. But sending them out the door to school can be frightening.
Before you send your child back to school, be prepared by taking the following steps.
- Make a plan. Complete a Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan. If you don’t have an appropriate form for your plan, visit the Food Allergy Research and Education website for a template. You can schedule an appointment with your physician to review the plan.
- Meet with school officials. Schedule a meeting with the following school personnel before the school year starts:
- Your child’s teacher(s)
- School Nurse
- Food service manager
Use the meeting to present your emergency care plan. Explain what foods your child is allergic to and the symptoms that they may exhibit in the event of a reaction or attack.
- Ask questions. Be prepared with a list of key questions so that you can make the most of the meeting. These may include:
- If outside food is brought in (such as for a child’s birthday party), how would you like the school to react? (Screen it for potential allergens? Have your child avoid it no matter what? )
- If there are food-based rewards (such as an ice cream party) that may trigger your child’s allergies, what can be offered to your child as an alternative?
- What field trips are planned for the year? Could they put your child at risk for a food allergy attack?
- Where will your child sit in the cafeteria?
- What measures does the cafeteria take to rule out cross-contamination (if your child will be ordering lunch)?
- How can the school ensure that your child does not get left out or bullied due to their food allergies?
- Establish emergency procedures. If your child does have an attack, make sure that the school has emergency response measures in place. If your child will be bringing an epinephrine auto-injector to school, make sure that the teacher and other officials who may be with your child understand its use.
If allergies are interfering with your child’s quality of life, you are not powerless. While it used to be that avoidance was the only option for dealing with allergies, food allergy treatment is now available. Your physician can order a food allergy test kit to help you understand what your child is allergic to and the severity of their allergies. They can then prescribe sublingual immunotherapy (under-the-tongue allergy drops) for food allergies.