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Food Allergies at School: How to Protect Your Kids


Every August brings anxiety: what to wear, how to get around, meeting new friends...and that's just you! Your children have their own first-day jitters. One thing that causes the blood pressure to rise is allergic reactions. Teachers are the lifeline between a child's allergic reaction and the school nurse. While sneezes and sniffles are often linked to grasses, pollen, and pet dander, there are much more serious food allergies that school staff must be made aware of.

Let's face it, kids like to snack and given the chance they'll snack on anything we put in front of them. However, about 5 percent of all children live with a food allergy. More than 90 percent of food allergies in children are caused by peanuts, eggs, wheat, milk or soy products according to Roxana Cham, MD, family medicine physician with Methodist Family Health Center - Firewheel.

Not all nuts are the same. Peanuts are a type of bean, but both peanuts and tree nuts, such as cashews, are each associated with many allergies.

"It's important to try to distinguish the difference between an allergy and an intolerance," says Dr. Cham. "A food intolerance is when a particular food upsets your stomach. This can be immediate or several hours later. The best example of this is lactose intolerance."

Allergic reactions are widely different ranging from itching to wheezing and even fainting. Allergic reactions can occur within a few minutes to a couple of hours.

Symptoms of Allergic Reactions

  • itching
  • hives
  • tingling of the mouth
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • drop in blood pressure causing lightheadedness
  • fainting

Communicating Student Allergies to Teachers

After lunch or a snack recess, a teacher will observe and look for any signs of a child scratching, or whether a child appears flushed, breathing faster than usual, swollen lips and tongue, possible drooling or if a student appears lightheaded.

A teacher may not know what's causing the reaction, but there are ways to communicate concerns to a teacher or school administrators. An allergy can be listed on school enrollment forms and parents can schedule a meeting with a child's teacher and school nurse to discuss the allergy and use of medication like Benadryl or an EpiPen.

Using an EpiPen

EpiPens are the main treatment for a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, or shortness of breath with a drop of in blood pressure as well as mouth and lip swelling.

"In elementary school, it would be best if a student's teacher had an EpiPen in the classroom and took it with them to recess or lunch if there is not one available in these locations," says Dr. Cham.

The recommendations are similar for a student in junior high and high school. Parents are asked to make sure his or her child brings their EpiPen to school and knows how to use it as well as the school and educators being aware it is not a toy and is necessary.

"Just because you have an EpiPen, it doesn't mean you're invincible and can eat anything. It isn't foolproof."

Allergies can develop at any time in someone's life. Sometimes children may outgrow allergies, but nut and shellfish allergies usually are lifelong.

If you think your child might have a food or environmental allergy, schedule an appointment with a Methodist Family Health Center physician today.

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