Managing Food Allergies: Tips for Parents

Most parents feel a little apprehensive when their child goes to back to school, but parents of a child with a food allergy have unique worries. School places their child into a food-rich environment with exposure to potentially life-threatening food allergens. It’s a challenge that more families are facing as the number of food-allergic students continues to increase. Researchers estimate that one in every 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy. That’s about two students in every classroom.

The good news is: “awareness of food allergies has improved tremendously in the past several years,” said Susan Benenati, M.D., an allergy/immunology physician affiliated with the Baptist Health Quality Network. “Many schools have food management strategies in place to keep children with this health issue safe.”

Education, communication and cooperation are the keys to managing food allergies at school, says Food Allergy Research & Education, Inc. (FARE), a national organization working on behalf of the 15 million Americans with food allergies. Dr. Benenati and FARE advise parents to take these steps to manage food allergies in the school setting:

Do Your Homework

  • Meet with your school’s administrators to learn about their approach to food allergy management.
  • Seek out parents of other food-allergic children and work together.

Educate and Inform

  • Provide your school with information about your child’s food allergy and medications. “It’s also important for school staff to know that not only do no two children have the same reaction to a food allergen; a child’s allergic reaction can vary widely in severity from incident to incident,” Dr. Benenati added.
  • Complete your school’s Emergency Care Plan. If your school does not have one, you can download a form from Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
  • Partner with your school to send a letter home to classroom parents informing them of your child’s food allergy and the protective strategies in place. This letter, says Dr. Benenati, should request that parents be respectful and mindful of your child’s medical condition.

Manage Medications

  • Provide the school with your child’s epinephrine and be sure it is stored in a safe yet accessible place. Another option is to have your child carry the EpiPen, depending on his or her maturity level. An EpiPen contains Epinephrine and is used to treat severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis).
  • Ensure teachers and staff members caring for your child are properly trained to administer this life-saving medication. “Epinephrine is the definitive treatment for a food allergy reaction,” stressed Dr. Benenati. “School staff should immediately call 9-1-1 whenever epinephrine is administered to your child.”

Avoid Exposure to Food Allergens

  • Work with your child’s teacher to ban the food allergen in the classroom and develop a no food sharing rule.
  • Encourage teachers to use non-food items for rewards and classroom events.
  • Provide the classroom with “safe” snacks to enjoy at celebrations. Dr. Benenati pointed out that “many parents take the responsibility to bring food for entire class in order to eliminate the risk and allow their child to fully participate in celebrations.”
  • Partner with school administrators to identify a “safe” lunch table for your child.
  • Ensure measures are in place to clean surfaces and hands after food handling.

Prepare for Extracurricular Activities

  • Determine your school’s policies for managing food allergies while children are riding on school transportation vehicles and participating in field trips so that lapses do not occur during these times.
  • Ensure bus drivers and chaperones are trained to recognize the symptoms of a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, and to respond appropriately.

Prevent Bullying

  • Be on the lookout for signs that your child might be experiencing teasing because of his or her food allergy.
  • Ensure your school has a proactive anti-bullying prevention program that teaches students how to recognize and report bullying.

Help Your Child Manage

  • Have your child wear a medical alert bracelet.
  • Educate your child about foods that are dangerous for him or her and strategies to avoid exposure.

No one wants a medical emergency to occur in school, and to avoid them, parents and school staff members must be proactive and work together to ensure children have a safe and rewarding experience, Dr. Benenati said.

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