Back-to-school with Food Allergies: A Parent’s Guide
Summer is winding down, and another school year is upon us. While many parents are busy making sure their child has the necessary school supplies to be successful, some parents have to ensure their child will be safe at school with a food allergy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about two students per classroom have a food allergy, and these allergies are on the rise.
“Milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, sesame, and tree nuts, like walnuts and cashews, cause 90% of all allergic reactions in kids,” said Judith Prairie, a physician at Family Care Center of Mooresville.
A food allergy is when the body mistakenly identifies a protein in a particular food as a foreign invader, and the immune system attacks it. This immune system response results in a sudden release of chemicals, such as histamine, that causes an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction vary in severity and are not always the same every time. A child having an allergic reaction may experience itching or swelling in their mouth or throat, an itchy rash, nausea, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, a weak pulse, and chest pain, to name a few.
The sudden onset of more than one of the symptoms above can signal a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. These symptoms worsen quickly and may be life-threatening, so medical attention is needed immediately. To control a severe reaction, an immediate injection of epinephrine (EpiPen) is required.
For families with children who have food allergies, a new teacher and routine can feel stressful and uncertain. Below, Prairie provides a few tips that can help you prepare for the upcoming school year.
Schedule an appointment with your child’s primary care provider before returning to school.
It’s important to visit your child’s provider prior to starting school to discuss if their symptoms have changed or if they have any new food allergies.
“Your primary care provider can also assess your current food allergy action plan and update it as needed. Another reason to see your child’s provider is that medications do expire. So, a new prescription may be necessary,” said Prairie.
Contact the school.
Both you and your child’s school want your child to be in a safe, healthy environment, so it’s vital to partner with the school to successfully manage your child’s food allergy.
You can start by contacting your child’s school and asking to make an appointment with the school nurse. Then, you and the school nurse can develop an individual plan that includes a list of your child’s allergies, possible symptoms, prescribed medication, how often treatment should be given and who is responsible for giving it, and details of emergency procedures.
During this meeting, you can also discuss how class parties and field trips will be handled and how the school will manage a severe allergic reaction.
Your child’s school will then share this information with teachers, bus drivers, and other individuals who will be caring for your child at school.
If your child has a severe allergy, like an airborne peanut allergy, for instance, you should make an appointment with the school nurse before the first day of class to ensure your child’s safety.
Get your child involved.
You should make sure your child understands they have an allergy and that certain foods can make them very sick. According to Prairie, you should teach them the names of foods they are allergic too and point them out in the grocery store or even in books or online.
You should also tell your child only to eat food given to them by you or another trusted adult, and encourage them not to share food with their friends. As they grow older, you can show your child what ingredients to watch out for on food labels.
Most importantly, teach your child to find an adult if they begin to feel sick.
Additionally, always be on the lookout for signs that your child may be being bullied at school due to their food allergy. Some signs of bullying include not wanting to go to school, depression, stomach aches, changes in sleeping or eating habits, drop in grades, lost or broken items and belongings, or unexplained injuries.
Build a support group.
As a parent of a child with a food allergy, remember you’re not alone — many parents are in the exact same situation. Build a support group with other parents. There are several groups on social media where you can communicate and share stories and advice with parents who also have children with food allergies.
“I encourage my patients to tell everybody about their child’s allergy. This includes not just school staff, but also family members, daycare centers, babysitters, after-school and extracurricular program staff, and parents of your child’s friends for playdates or sleepovers,” said Prairie.
Prairie practices at Family Care Center of Mooresville, located at 653 Bluefield Road on the second floor of the Iredell Mooresville facility. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Judith Prairie for yourself or your child, please call 704-360-6580.