Often, this is a result of a lack of education and preparation. Understanding the impact food allergies have on affected children is the first step in recognizing the need for better management.
Consider the following:
- Six million children in the U.S. have a food allergy, or 1 in 13 children.
- “The Big Eight” cause 90% of food-induced reactions: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.
- Peanuts and tree nuts account for 90% of fatalities, but any food to which a person is allergic can cause a life-threatening reaction.
- Trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.
- 77,000 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year for food-allergic reactions.
- 16-18% of children experience a reaction while at school.
- 79% of reactions at school occur in the classroom.
- 25% of food-allergic reactions at school are experienced by students previously undiagnosed as having a food allergy.
- Having both food allergies and asthma put children are at a higher risk for fatal anaphylaxis.
- January, 2012: at school, a 7-year-old girl with a peanut allergy ate a snack she thought was safe. It wasn’t. She had anaphylaxis and died.
- Summer, 2013: at camp, a 13-year-old girl with a peanut allergy took a bite of a snack she believed was safe. It wasn’t. Despite receiving epinephrine three times, the only medicine capable of reversing symptoms of anaphylaxis, it didn’t work. With only one bite, she also lost her life.
School is a high-risk environment for these children because the opportunity for food allergen exposure at school is great. Food is an integral part of the school day: snack, lunch, holiday/ birthday celebrations, pizza parties, and ice cream socials, for example. Food is also used in the curriculum in all grades: art, science, cooking, and cultural enrichment projects. The possibility for allergen exposure through ingestion, skin contact, cross-contamination and inhalation, exists with all of these activities.
Allergic reactions at school can be prevented. Advance planning and vigilance are critical. Allergen avoidance, education and response protocols must be implemented – here’s how:
- Provide medical documentation, EpiPens and related medicines.
- Provide a physician-signed plan to treat a reaction (Emergency Treatment Plan).
- Provide safe foods for your child.
- Provide age-appropriate education to your child.
- Be a resource.
- Have a nurse on staff at school
- Provide education on food allergies and anaphylaxis for staff and the school community.
- Provide EpiPen administration training for all staff (where state regulations allow).
- Work with the parents to develop a healthcare plan to prevent allergen exposure (Individual Healthcare Plan or 504 Plan), for all school-sponsored activities in which the child will participate, and in all areas of the school environment.
- Understand laws that protect children with food allergies.
Students with food allergies are entitled to a safe school experience. Education, preparation, and a thoughtful, coordinated approach – along with a strong partnership between parents and school personnel – will achieve this result.
Jan Hanson, M.A., has more than twenty years experience in the area of food allergy management and is founder of the consulting company Educating for Food Allergies, LLC (EFFA). Her book, Food Allergies: A Recipe for Success at School, is available at www.amazon.com.