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Sunday, 30 August 2015

Back to School with Allergies

Sending a child back to school, or to school for the first time, can be stressful at best, but for an increasing number of parents this milestone is made even more fraught by the worry of keeping them safe from a severe allergy. Allergies are increasingly common; approximately 1 in 50 children are now allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, meaning it’s likely there will be a handful of children with severe allergies in most schools.

Severe allergies often cause a serious and life threatening reaction called Anaphylaxis which typically occurs within minutes of exposure to the allergen. It occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to a substance (peanut, milk, egg etc) that it perceives as a threat; these reactions must be treated immediately with adrenaline and prompt medical treatment.

As any parent with a food allergic child will confirm, daily life is laden with potential dangers. But there are some simple ways you can help to minimise the dangers and help your child to live as normal a school life as possible. With clear communication and some forward planning school life can be as inclusive as possible.

Tips for parents … at home
  • Speak confidently and calmly to your child about their allergy. Children are never too young to be involved in managing their own allergy. Even small children who are learning to read can be shown how to look at labels and look for key words. EU legislation introduced in 2014 means allergens must be identified in bold writing on all packaging which makes it even easier to identify risk.
  • It is essential that your child is allergy aware, no matter how young. You must impress on them that they cannot share or swap their lunch with anyone, no matter how tempting; a colourful sticker on the inside of their lunch box will remind them and others not to share food.
  • Depending on age and maturity, consider training your child in how to use their auto-injector. This will help to empower and involve them.
  • Consider purchasing an allergy wristband for your child to wear, particularly very young children. A simple Google search will bring up many options; Irish company Allergy Lifestyle stocks a range of inexpensive colourful options for children.
Tips for parents … at school
  • Arrange to speak to your child’s teacher directly about their allergy. It’s essential that you convey the seriousness of the allergy, without frightening or being overly demanding.
  • Ask in what instances might food be used or consumed in the classroom and together identify times where your child’s allergy may become an issue. Examples include using Smarties or M&Ms for counting in maths, using empty recyclables for art and projects or any nature projects that involve nuts, grains or seeds.
  • Provide the school with an emergency kit for your child; ensure your child’s name and ideally a photograph are on the front. Inside should be two auto-injectors, an Emergency Plan, antihistamines, asthma inhalers and other medications as prescribed. Ensure your child’s medication is kept in date and replace before the expiry date.
  • Ensure that the school understands that if there is any doubt about whether to give adrenaline or not, it should be given. The consequences of not giving it could be fatal.
  • Provide the teacher with a bag of safe treats for your child to be used throughout the year as needed, safe snack ideas and ask if you can contribute safe snacks to any class parties.
Three key questions for parents to ask:
  •  Where will my child’s adrenaline injection (Epipen, Jext or Anapen) be kept? Ideally, adrenaline should be kept in their classroom or with the child but schools will have their own specific policy. Adrenaline must be kept in an obvious and accessible place and must never be kept in a locked office or cupboard.
  • If the need arose, who would administer the injection? Has training been provided to staff who are the main carers for your child? If not, you may wish to give the class teacher an informal demonstration of the injector while they await formal training. Trainer pens are useful for this. As mentioned before it is extremely helpful if your child is familiar with the auto-injector!
  • How will the rest of the staff be made aware of the allergy? Often schools place a poster with the name, photo and allergy of children with severe allergies in a visible place in the staffroom to help with this. Offer to make this poster if necessary!
There are many resources available on the Anaphylaxis Ireland website, including a resource pack for schools entitled Managing Chronic Health Conditions at School (which was sent to most schools in September 2011) and at the Anaphylaxis Campaign's website.