Back to School Tips for Children with Food Allergies

The start of a new school year for some parents goes beyond getting new supplies, stationary, backpacks and getting into routine. For parents with children with allergies, going back to school can be a bit stressful. There is a greater risk of various triggers that a child is exposed to which may cause an allergic reaction. It is also difficult to control the school environment when compared to the safe, allergy-free zone at home.

Most common allergens in school children

Children may be exposed to food such as peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, hen’s eggs, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish which may trigger an allergic reaction. Environmental allergens such as smoke, mould, dust mites, chalk dust, bee stings and pollen allergies are other potential causes of allergic reactions in children while at school.

7 back to school tips for children with food allergies

However, with some organisation, preparation and education, it is possible to make the school a safe environment for your child and have greater peace of mind.

Involve your child

Talk to your child about his/her food allergies. Having open conversations around their allergies, encourages them to ask questions and be more prepared. Reading books about food allergies helps them better remember what they are expected to do in case of an emergency. Practice fun hand-washing songs before and after meals. Teach older children to read food labels, recognise symptoms of an allergic reaction and report bullying. Encourage your child to follow a golden rule: no sharing food.

Visit your child’s doctor

Before the year commences, visit your child’s doctor to discuss the emergency action plan and organise the following:

  • Prescriptions for emergency medications
  • School forms pertaining to medication authorisation, special dietary needs requirements and emergency action plan signed

Get to know the support team at school

Ensure you have completed and submitted all the required forms as per the school’s policy for children with food allergies. Make an appointment with the school nurse to discuss your child’s food allergies, reactions seen in the past and the doctor’s recommended emergency medications and action plan. No questions are too many. Introduce yourself and your child to school staff that will be around on a routine basis: teachers, administration, nurses, and cafeteria staff. Take the time to provide them with specific information about your child and how they can support your child.

Understand classroom management of food allergies

Classroom teachers along with specialist teachers such as physical education, music and arts, play an important role in keeping children with food allergies safe at school. Familiarising them with triggers that can cause an allergic reaction in your child and symptoms experienced can help ensure timely action is taken during an emergency. If your child’s classroom celebrates birthdays, requesting to know in advance of celebration dates would allow you to pack something special and safe for your child.

Label all medications

When a child is having an allergic reaction, all emergency medications must be readily available.  Make sure all medication is clearly labelled, has not expired and is kept safely at a place the teachers and nurses are aware of. If your child is old enough, speak to your doctor to teach him/her how to use medication effectively.

Comprehensive action plan

Your child’s emergency action plan must be detailed and cover all possible settings within the school premises that would form a part of routine activities. There should be clear instructions on medication and treatment administered for the different symptoms that your child may experience such as swelling, wheezing or difficulty breathing.

Food allergy alert bracelet

These are especially useful during the beginning of the year when the staff are familiarising themselves with children. A medical bracelet clearly labelled with the allergies helps the medical team in case of an emergency to respond better and faster.

Pharmacist tips

  • A food allergic reaction could range from mild rashes, raised pale welts surrounded by redness to life threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis.
  • Sometimes anaphylaxis could lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness.
  • If you have a child with food allergies there are never too many precautionary measures that you can take. Get a comprehensive school allergy checklist.

Remember, the best approach is to keep talking to your child and the staff to discuss activities and other ideas that can help everyone be better prepared.

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