Many families are already gearing up to begin the school year. For moms with kids who have food allergies, intense preparation is in full swing. After all, ensuring that your child, their school, and you as the parent are all on the same page can certainly be a process. But take heart: Given that one in 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy, it's a process most schools are becoming more adept with helping parents through.
"We always encourage parents to have meetings with the school early, so they can determine what the policies are and the forms they need to complete," recommends Hemant Sharma, M.D., Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. But opening lines of communication is just the start.
Here, 7 to-dos experts recommend parents of kids with food allergies try to tackle before the year's first bell.
- Consider a comprehensive exam. "Before entering into a new school year, it is important to ensure that your child and their teachers understand your child’s specific allergies," advises family physician Bhavna Tank, M.D., Family Wellness Clinic in North Carolina. "If you're unsure, speak with your primary care physician about having a simple skin (prick) test to determine their specific sensitizing allergens. Allergy testing is the only way to identify your specific allergy triggers and determine appropriate, individualized treatment. In about 15 minutes, your doctor will be able to tell you exactly what your child is allergic to and discuss with you several treatment options and avoidance techniques." To confirm food allergies, an allergist might also do a blood test and/or food challenge.
- Familiarize yourself with any policies the school has around your child's allergies. "Make sure you understand your school’s policy on allergies," explains Dr. Tank. "For example, some schools require a classroom to be nut free if a child is allergic, whereas others do not."
- Prepare a list of questions to ask. Depending on what the policy addresses and doesn't, you may come up with various questions for faculty. Several questions pediatric allergist and immunologist Subhadra Siegel, M.D., Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, suggests parents consider exploring: "Where do the kids eat lunch/snacks, in the classroom or a cafeteria? What precautions will the school set in place for separation? Are nut-free or similar allergy tables established? Are kids with food allergies placed at one end of the table? Is there a monitor watching at lunchtime? If the students will eat lunch or snacks in the classroom, is the classroom labeled for the allergy? If there is a birthday party, is the teacher open to parents bringing a special snack for the child with food allergies?" You may also want to inquire as to whether or not food-free birthday celebrations could be considered.
- Develop and submit an action plan. "Your action plan should list what your child's allergic triggers are, so the school knows how to avoid those," explains Dr. Sharma. "That's the first step in preventing these reactions. It should also list the potential signs and symptoms of a reaction, like hives, redness, swelling of the lips or tongue, problems with throat discomfort, vomiting, nausea, even a drop in blood pressure that could lead to fainting." The action plan should also include treatments that should be administered and under what circumstances, contact information for the rescue squad, your child's doctor, and you, a current picture of your child, and their doctor's signature, advises Dr. Tank. There are several online resources that offer sample forms and emergency care plans you can download and use.
- Discuss medications with your child's school and be sure to provide them anything they should have on hand for your child. If your child is at risk for a serious reaction, you'll want to prepare their school to administer medications like an epinephrine injection. "Epinephrine injections need to be listed on your action plan," Dr. Sharma notes. "Parents should provide two epinephrine auto injectors in the event of a severe reaction, and they should review this with the school staff, school nurse, etc."
- Teach your child some "pre-school" lessons about their allergy. The more a kid knows about their food allergy, the better off they'll be, so it can be helpful to spend some time talking and learning about it before school starts. "Discuss safe and unsafe foods and what to do if she touches or eats a food she's allergic to," recommends Dr. Tank. "Make sure you do not scare her unnecessarily, or make her feel that they will get into trouble. Encourage your child to cook and prepare food with you, and try label reading. Also, encourage your child to ask what a food contains before sharing food with other friends."
- Make sure your child knows what to do if an allergy reaction does occur. "It's always advisable that moms remind their kids to get help when they need it," notes Dr. Sharma. "Children should be encouraged to find an adult immediately, in the case of an emergency. The adult can then put into action their emergency care plan."
Moms of kids with allergies should never hesitate to speak up, ask questions, and empower their children to do the same. After all, the more and the earlier the communication about your child's allergy, the more confident moms can feel about a happy, safe school year ahead.
What do you think is most important way parents of kids who have allergies can prepare for the school year?
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