Managing Food Allergies In Schools

Did you know that food allergies affect 1 in 13 school-aged children? It’s the most common trigger of anaphylaxis for this age group, too. There’s been an 18% increase in food allergies among school age children in the last fifteen years. I taught school several years ago and back then I never had even one child with a food allergy. Not one. But, I know that is not the case today, and many parents and teachers are having to learn how to manage food allergies in schools.

But the question that must go through every parent’s mind is how do you reduce the risk of ingestion of food allergens while in school? And also, what procedures and strategies are in place to recognize and treat allergic reactions and anaphylaxis?

Notifying the School about Food Allergies

If your child has a potentially life-threatening food allergy, you’ll need to notify the school. You’ll want to let the school know foods your child must avoid, and also any possible substitutions. You can provide them with a written emergency plan or what is often referred to as a “food-allergy action plan”. There are many versions of this form and I’ll reference a few here:

Food-Allergy Action Plan – from Food Allergy Research & Education (scroll all the way down if viewing on an iPad)

Food-Allergy Action Plan – Douglass Childcare

Authorization of Treatment – Food Allergy Research

Nursing Protocol – Management of Food Allergies: School Treatment

If none of these forms adequately meet your and your child’s needs, search with the keywords “food-allergy action plan” for more suitable options. Unfortunately, at this point in time, there isn’t a universal form.

Considerations for Developing a Food-Allergy Action Plan

The treatment plan should include:

  • your child’s name
  • your child’s photograph
  • any specifics about food allergies
  • symptoms your child may have
  • treatments in case of emergencies
  • when to call emergency services
  • your contact information

Food Allergies and Anaphylactic Shock

Some food allergies are so severe, they may require epinephrine devices to be used at school and you may need to obtain a prescription to have some for school use as well as home use.

Who Should Have the Epipens:

1) If possible, depending on state and school laws as well as the age of your child, it’s recommended one epipen autoinjector be carried by your child in a dedicated bag. This site has some epipen bags suitable for this purpose. A great resource, too, is the article “When Should Students With Asthma or Allergies Carry and Self-Administer Emergency Medications at School?

2)  If it’s not possible for your child to carry the autoinjector themselves, then an epipen could be kept with the supervising teacher.

3)  Additional epipens should be kept with the school nurse, in case the your child forgets the epipen bag or a second epinephrine dose is needed.

Other Considerations to Keep in Mind

A few other considerations you may want to keep in mind:

1) Be sure the nurse, teachers (classroom teacher, art teacher, gym teacher, etc.) and staff have been educated on how to use an epipen.

2) Have your child wear a medic alert bracelet to make others who may come in contact with your child are aware of food allergies.

3) Check and make sure that substitute teachers are made aware of your child’s food allergies.

4) Make a point to meet with school staff and administrators to work cooperatively to help insure the possibilities of coming into contact with any known food allergens is minimized.

Additional Resources:

You can find additional resources at Food Allergy Research & Education. They have tools and tips to help schools manage children with food allergies in the classrooms.

Another great resource is from the American Academy of Pediactrics – Clinical Report – Management of Food Allergy in the School Setting.

The video below details how to make sure your child’s school is prepared for possible anaphylaxis and the use of epipens in schools, “Epi Everywhere! Every Day! School-based Anaphylaxis Preparedness.”

Image credit: velkol / 123RF Stock Photo
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