By Sweta Shah M.D.
Fall means the start of the school year and, according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), food allergy "is a growing public health issue that impacts almost every school across the United States. Nearly 6 million children in the U.S. – which equates to 1 in 13, or roughly 2 in every classroom – have a food allergy." Unfortunately for parents of children who have food allergies, risks of an allergic reaction at school can be greater than at home because it's more difficult to control the school environment.
To help make your child's return to school a safer one, we recommend that you prepare immediately. "Don't wait for the start of the new school year," recommends Ellie Goldberg, M.Ed, educational advocate and consultant. "Getting off to a good start in school depends on a little extra thought, information, planning and communication. September is a hectic time for both schools and families. Planning ahead will help school entry go smoothly for everyone."
Meeting with the school's principal, cafeteria staff, nurse and your child's teacher is strongly recommended. When you meet with these individuals, be sure to provide them with:
A list of the foods your child is allergic to
The possible symptoms of an allergic reaction
What should medication should be administered and under what circumstances
Contact information in case of an emergency including you, trusted relatives or friends in case you cannot be reached, the local hospital, and your child's allergist.
A recent photograph of your child
A signed letter from your child's allergist that provides precautions and treatment recommendations for your child's safety
A fresh supply of any prescribed emergency medicines and a set of guidelines that ensures that they are accessible
A very useful document to use when you meet with school administrators and staff is FARE's Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan. It "outlines recommended treatment in case of an allergic reaction, is signed by a physician and includes emergency contact information. The plan should be on file for every student with food allergies and may also be used for camps or while traveling." You can download this in PDF form at the following link: Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan.
Another important thing is to encourage your child to share information about his allergies with friends, classmates and school personnel and make sure that the child understands to tell an adult if the child believes they are experiencing symptoms.
As your child prepares to start school again, these guidelines can help ensure that everyone concerned is informed about ways to avoid triggering your child's allergies, and actions to take if his condition flares up. Should you have any questions about putting together an action plan for your child, please feel free to contact one of our clinics and we will be more than happy to provide you with guidance.