You might think a peanut-free environment is the best way to protect a child with peanut allergies. Think again. Research shows that a peanut-free classroom may achieve a 90 percent reduction in potential exposure, but set up a false sense of security. And the child, as well as those entrusted with his care, will not be prepared for a real emergency. That’s why the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) instead recommends a peanut aware environment.
If your child suffers a peanut allergy, you may have had anxious moments. Knowing that the school has a plan in place, and that you take an active role in that plan, will reassure everyone involved.
Does your school have such a plan? What follows are the important steps a school should take:
Allergy Action Plan. You and your child’s physician must submit to the school nurse an allergy action plan that outlines proper protocol for treating specific symptoms. (Access this form from FANN). This plan should be based on blood and skin tests and include the child’s medical history.
Symptoms, signs, treatments. The Allergy Action Plan should include recommended treatment in the event the child suffers an attack. The school nurse needs the plan’s authorization in order to give the child Benadryl or/and administer an EpiPen.
Other school officials. Statistically, the school nurse administers EpiPen injections most frequently. Other school employees—teachers, substitute teachers, coaches, and bus drivers—are certified yearly to administer the EpiPen by your child’s school nurse.
Distribution of the plan. Copies of the action plan should be distributed with explanations and instructions to your child’s teacher and your child’s couches. Even if the particular faculty member is not certified to administer the EpiPen, the plan will describe the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction and include steps to get the student treatment expeditiously.
Class pets. Those little critters can sometimes trigger a reaction. Find out whether one will be spending time in the vicinity of your child.
School trips, parties, celebrations. Of course, children are not always in the classroom. Parents need to remain vigilant. You can check the Botanical Food Family List for possible allergens. Ask your child’s classroom teacher if you can keep on hand a list of acceptable snacks, in the event he can’t eat what other children bring in.
Bring the child into the loop. You can help relieve your child’s anxiety (and your own!) by helping her to better understand her allergies. Write down what foods, plants, etc. are most likely to bring on an attack. Make sure she understands that she can ask what’s in the food she is served inside or outside school. Give her the necessary vocabulary to properly describe her symptoms so that she can talk with a responsible adult. Role-play with her so she can prepare for such emergencies.
EpiPens made available. If a child’s doctor has prescribed an EpiPen for treatment in the event of an attack, it’s the parent’s responsibility to provide two EpiPens to the school. One should be left with the school nurse, the other with the child’s classroom teacher. If your child attends a class trip or participates in athletics, he should bring along two EpiPens.
EpiPens on site. In most schools, there are EpiPen stations throughout the building, placed in small boxes on the wall. The medication in the EpiPen may only cover a child’s symptoms for up to 15 to 20 minutes so access to another dose might be necessary till the emergency services arrive at the school. After the EpiPen is administered 911 must be called. An Allergic reaction might return up to several hours later.
Educate other children. Classmates should be educated about not sharing food, and washing their hands frequently. Those who are not allergic should nonetheless know the signs to be able to help a classmate in distress.
Preventing bullying. Having a food allergy may make a child a target for bullies. Parents should make sure that the school has an anti-bullying program in place. Your child should tell you if she is being picked on. (Click for FANN’s Be a PAL Program).
It takes a village. The school community as a whole needs to support those children who have food allergies, as well as their families. Within the school, the psychologist, the school nurse, school heads, teachers, and support staff all need to be on board. Other parents need to understand the school’s Allergy Action Plan and talk with their own children about being cooperative.
Mary Ellen Ostrander is a school nurse in Brooklyn.
For more information, go to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network website.
Click to see FANN’s phone app, Food Allergy Information at Your Fingertips.
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