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Severe Allergies at School -- How to Be Prepared

Set Up a Meeting at the School

When your child has serious allergies, work with her school. Meet with the principal, her teachers, and the clinic staff.  Find out if the school already has a policy to deal with food or other allergies. Then, make a plan to help her avoid triggers while still being able to fully take part. Don’t forget after-school programs and the school bus.

Develop an Anaphylaxis Action Plan

In an allergy emergency, seconds count. Every child with prescribed epinephrine should have an emergency plan. Make one with your child’s doctor and the school nurse. It should have your child’s photo, specific allergy warning signs and symptoms, and treatment instructions. Put copies in your child’s classroom, the office, and the cafeteria.

Supply the School With Medication

Epinephrine should be with your child at school -- not locked up or refrigerated. It should be passed between staff wherever she goes unless she’s old enough to carry it. Explain doctor instructions, which may include injecting at the first signs of anaphylaxis. Your doctor may suggest that your child carry two doses. Check expiration dates often. 

Talk to Your Child About Allergies

Go over your child’s triggers with her. For food allergies, tell her not to share food, utensils, or containers, and to wash her hands before and after eating. For insect sting allergies, teach her to wear long sleeves, pants, and shoes outside and eat inside when she can. If outside, use a straw. Then she can’t swallow a bee if it is in her drink.  

Teach Warning Signs

Children and school staff (even substitute teachers and lunch monitors) should know to watch for these warning signs:

  • Hives and itching, pale or flushed skin
  • Swollen throat or tongue
  • Wheezing, trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Dizziness or fainting, or rapid or weak pulse
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach cramps

Make a Response Plan

School staff should not expect your child to give herself an epinephrine shot during a reaction, even if she knows how. Your doctor will make an emergency response plan for staff to follow. It will tell them how and when to give epinephrine, call 911, and start emergency first aid.

Expose Hidden Severe Allergy Dangers

Ask your child's teacher to avoid using triggers in lesson plans, crafts projects, and cooking classes. Some iffy items include:

  • Tempera paints that have eggs
  • Clay or dough made with peanut butter
  • Icing made from egg whites

Work for Sting Prevention

Preventing insect stings can be hard. But your child's school can take these helpful steps:

  • Remove insect nests on or near school grounds
  • Store garbage in covered containers away from where students play or line up for school
  • Have at-risk students eat inside, at least during sting season

Give Your Child a Medical ID Bracelet

A medical alert bracelet reminds school staff during an emergency that your child needs epinephrine. It also gives paramedics a special number to get important information quickly. Bracelets designed for kids can feature beads or cartoon characters.

Should You Bag Cafeteria Lunches?

If you’re sure your child won’t swap food, packing a lunch is OK. But schools must make meals for kids with special diet needs at no extra cost. Food staff should know your child’s food triggers and the technical and scientific names for those foods to help them when reading packages. Surfaces and utensils should be washed to avoid cross contact.

No-Allergen Zones

Limiting contact with triggers can be done in a way that doesn't make kids with food allergies feel alone. If your child is allergic to nuts, for example, work with school staff to:

  • Have a special lunch table where anyone can sit whose lunch is nut-free
  • Make school-wide rules not to trade food or share utensils or straws
  • Create a nut-free snack policy in the classroom

Help the School Help Your Child

By volunteering at school, you can help teachers watch what's going on. Be involved in planning and going on field trips and class parties. Write a letter that the teacher can send to other class parents to let them know about your child’s allergy. Offer to provide kid-friendly allergy info for classmates.

Anaphylaxis: When Allergies Threaten Lives

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on March 24, 2014

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