Allergies: How to Stay Safe at School?

By Zeina Sahyoun,

Genetics & Biotechnology Expert

School can be a stressful time, especially for children with allergies. Risks of an allergic reaction at school can be greater than at home because it’s more difficult to control the school environment. To help reduce food allergy emergencies at school, start with these 11 tips.

Knowing your child’s allergies

If you suspect your child is suffering from a food allergy or even a seasonal one due to the weather or to pollen in the air, it is advisable to get your child tested. If your child is exhibiting symptoms, it’s recommended to perform a simple blood test to test circulating IgE levels in addition to a RAST panel that tests the body’s reaction to a list of food and inhalant allergens. If your child is not exhibiting symptoms but you suspect an allergy or would just like to know what your child may be allergic to, ask your paediatrician about skin testing through a qualified paediatric allergist. This is because the body will not produce allergy-related antibodies (IgE) that can be detected through a blood test if no reaction is taking place.

Treating your child’s allergies

If your child suffers from common seasonal allergies, you’re not alone. Many children in Jordan suffer such allergies that may even result in them missing school. Symptoms like fatigue, headache, sneezing, a runny nose, watery eyes and itchiness can get in the way of attention and concentration so it’s worth asking your paediatrician about appropriate antihistamine or nasal spray medications to see your child through the allergy season.

Knowing the school’s procedures on allergies

Your first step is to inform the school of any food allergies your child may have. Ask if any paperwork about a child with allergies needs to be filled out and signed before school starts. Find out if the school has a full time doctor or nurse on site at all times and how any allergic reactions would be handled, including how you’d

be notified. Meet the nurse or doctor and let them know who you and your child are. Discuss your child’s allergies in detail so they remember your child.

Having an Allergy Action Plan

When a child is having an allergic reaction, every second counts. An allergy action plan helps ensure that teachers, the school nurse, and administrators immediately know what to do in case your child has an allergic reaction. Make sure any emergency medications are readily available if your child begins to show symptoms such as swelling, wheezing or difficulty

in breathing. Your child’s allergy action plan should cover all settings in which the child spends significant time during the school day.

Providing medications

If your child requires allergy medication — such as an antihistamine, inhaler  or epinephrine auto-injector — before school starts, find out where the medication will be stored. For example, is it kept in the nurse’s office, or can your child keep it with her or him in the classroom or in a locker? Then, when you send medication to school, make sure it’s properly labelled, that it hasn’t expired, and that your child and the school nurse know how and when to use it.

Talking to teachers

Teachers play an important role in keeping children with allergies safe at school. Teachers must be aware of the child’s allergies, know what triggers the child needs to avoid while at school, and be familiar with the signs of an allergic reaction. Teachers should also be educated on the child’s health needs and trained on how to handle an allergy emergency because allergic reactions can progress rapidly.

Educating your child

Children with allergies should learn what they’re allergic to and understand the fact that they can have an allergic reaction if exposed to these triggers. Kids with food allergies should know what foods are safe and unsafe to them, and to never share food with friends or eat anything if they’re not sure what’s in it. It is best to pack

a lunch from home for young children with allergies.

Children who might have an allergic reaction to bee stings should know the importance of wearing long trousers and long-sleeve clothing when outside.

Even if your child does not have any allergies, advise on why, for example, the school does not allow any food containing nuts on campus and about the importance of not sharing food, particularly with children known to have food allergies. If your child is friends with a child that has allergies, it would be wise to educate on how to recognize basic signs of allergies and to inform a teacher immediately.

Having your child wear a medic alert bracelet

Students at risk of a severe allergic reaction should wear a medic alert bracelet along with their new back-to-school clothes — some companies make fashion-forward styles that can be fun to wear. A medic alert bracelet can help inform others of what the child’s allergies are so that responders can make informed decisions about how to care for him or her during an emergency.

Making sure everyone is on the same page

For children with allergies, it’s imperative that all potential caregivers be informed of how to act in case of an emergency. This doesn’t end at the door of the school. Bus drivers, after-school programme employees, athletic coaches and babysitters all need to understand allergy triggers, symptoms of an allergic reaction and the proper protocol to follow to keep your child safe.

Volunteering and getting involved

When kids go back to school, parents should consider getting as involved as possible. If possible, you can join the parent-teacher association or volunteer your time at school in order to become more familiar with your child’s surroundings and the people who spend time with your child during the school day. This can help you feel more connected to your child’s school and the people there and enhance communication about your child’s needs.

Educating yourself

While children with allergies are busy learning, Mama and Baba should take the opportunity to follow suit. Read Family Flavours and visit the website of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) and the American Academy of Paediatrics for more information on managing allergies in children, at school and at home.