The following guide offers strategies for managing your child's allergies during the school year.
Managing a child’s allergies is challenging enough when they’re at home – how can you make sure they’re protected during the school day?
Whether your child has food allergies, insect sting allergies, asthma, or another allergy that requires vigilant management, it’s critically important that you use every resource available to you. Here’s how you can ensure your child has a safe and welcoming school year.
Recognize Allergy Signs
Schedule an appointment with your allergist or pediatrician if your child experiences the following symptoms:
- Frequent respiratory symptoms (itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing , coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath)
- Frequent infections (ear, sinus, bronchitis, pneumonia) Changes in skin texture or appearance (rashes, dry patches, hives)
During your visit, the physician will conduct a physical examination and evaluate your child's symptoms. You will be asked about your child's dietary habits, environment, and medical history. Your physician will recommend allergy testing or not based on the information provided. If allergy testing is recommended, request a referral to a board-certified allergist.
Your allergist will provide you with instructions to help you prepare for testing. These instructions are designed to maximize the accuracy of the testing and might include the following guidance:
- Don't administer antihistamines the week before the test.
- Avoid any substances that trigger physical symptoms before the test.
Allergy testing might involve the following:
- Skin Prick Test: Skin prick testing involves introducing a small sample of allergen proteins to the child's skin and then gently pricking or scratching the skin's surface. If the child is allergic to a particular substance, inflammation or redness may develop.
- Blood Test: During immunoglobulin E (IgE) sensitization testing, a blood sample is taken and then analyzed to identify specific antibodies related to different allergens. This type of test is preferred for children who cannot undergo skin prick testing.
The test results will identify any allergens that cause the reaction. Your allergist will explain the test results to you and help you develop an appropriate management plan and emergency action plan.
Create a Management Plan With Your Child's Allergist
It's critically important to create a comprehensive allergy management plan if your child is experiencing symptoms that are either disruptive to normal functioning or potentially life-threatening. While management plans must be specific to the child and the type of allergy, they will include the following strategies:
- Procedures for avoiding allergens.
- Managing symptoms through medications, diet, or other therapies.
- Scheduling periodic follow-ups with allergy specialists to monitor the symptoms and adjust medications/therapies as needed.
- Design an emergency action plan for addressing dangerous allergic responses, including the proper use of epinephrine injectors (EpiPens).
Communicate With Your Child's Teachers and Appropriate School Staff
Clear communication and collaboration are critical to ensuring your child’s safety and comfort during the school year.
- Alert your school and school district to your child's condition: While school districts throughout the United States have different administrative processes, they will generally allow you to access or fill out the necessary documents online. However, whether they require you to visit the enrolment offices or submit the paperwork electronically, always keep digital or physical copies of any paperwork you submit for your own records.
- Have a meeting with school staff: Communicating your child's needs with teachers, administrators, and school nurses is essential to creating and maintaining a safe and inclusive school environment. If possible, meet with all staff members who will come in contact with your child, including counselors, homeroom teachers, school mental health aides, and security personnel.
- Share your allergy action plan with school staff: Collaborating with the child's healthcare provider, parents can develop an allergy action plan that provides specific steps to be taken during an allergic reaction. This plan should include information about recognizing signs, administering emergency medication, and contacting emergency services if necessary. Sharing this plan with the school staff ensures everyone is prepared to respond appropriately. Moreover, clarify how epinephrine injectors can be easily accessed in case of an allergic reaction or where emergency medication should be stored. It is crucial to establish clear protocols for medication storage and accessibility.
- Ask to review training records for epinephrine injectors and other interventions: Make sure that every adult that comes in contact with your child can recognize the onset of an allergic response and can intervene appropriately and quickly.
Different Types of Allergies Will Require Different Strategies and Accommodations
Anaphylaxis is an extreme and potentially fatal allergic response. It develops due to an overreaction of the immune system to a substance it perceives as harmful. The most common substances that trigger anaphylaxis are insect venom, certain foods (like peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seed, seafood, milk, and eggs), latex, and medications.
The symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur suddenly and can involve numerous organ systems. The condition is considered a medical emergency requiring immediate intervention. When untreated, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening..
Schools can reduce the risk of anaphylaxis in the following ways:
- Maintain strict protocols surrounding access to emergency medications like epinephrine injectors.
- Provide staff-wide training in emergency treatment administration.
- Provide student training in emergency treatment administration.
- Provide staff-wide training in recognizing anaphylaxis symptoms.
- Provide student training in recognizing anaphylaxis symptoms.
- Make epinephrine injectors easily accessible.
- Allow students to carry their own prescribed epinephrine injectors.
Food allergies are becoming increasingly common among children; nearly 6% of children experience food allergies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A food allergy is a type of immune system response triggered by particular foods. When someone has a food allergy, their immune system misidentifies certain proteins in the food as dangerous and overreacts to them.
Common food allergy symptoms include abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, hives, itching, swollen lips, swollen tongue, and swollen throat. In more serious instances, food allergies can cause anaphylaxis, a potentially deadly reaction.
Schools can accommodate children with food allergies in the following ways:
- Institute allergy-aware policies in the classrooms.
- Establish a safe cafeteria environment.
- Inspect food item ingredient lists regularly.
- Maintain open communication with parents and guardians.
- Address allergy or food-related bullying immediately.
Stinging Insect Allergies
Hymenoptera venom allergies, commonly known as insect sting allergies, are allergic reactions that occur in response to the venom injected by stinging insects such as honey bees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasp, and fire ants. These allergies can range from mild, localized reactions to severe systemic reactions, including anaphylaxis.
Schools can accommodate children with insect sting allergies in the following ways:
- Limit exposure to stinging insects by controlling pests in the common outdoor areas.
- Provide insect-repellant products.
- Maintain an allergy-aware classroom by limiting flowers and plants that could attract insects.
Asthma is a common, chronic respiratory condition that affects millions of people worldwide, both children and adults. The symptoms of asthma can vary from person to person but typically include wheezing, inability to breathe, coughing, and chest tightness.
Asthma and allergies can be interrelated; asthma can be triggered by certain allergens like dust, pet dander, and pollen.
Schools can accommodate children with asthma in the following ways:
- Offer asthma education and awareness for students and staff.
- Screen for asthma triggers and maintain a healthy, clean environment.
- Provide physical education tailored to the needs of students with asthma.
Latex allergies are immune system overreactions to natural rubber latex. Latex allergy symptoms can range from minor to life-threatening. They might include skin eruptions (hives, rashes), respiratory symptoms (sneezing, coughing, a runny nose, shortness of breath), or anaphylaxis.
People with severe latex allergies can be put at risk in an environment where latex particulates are in the air.
Latex allergies sometimes correspond with certain food allergies because they share similar protein structures. Foods that frequently trigger allergic responses in people with latex allergies include avocados, bananas, chestnuts, kiwi, potatoes, and tomatoes.
Schools can accommodate children with latex allergies in the following ways:
- Make sure school supplies, toys, and furnishings are latex-free.
- Educate administrators, school nurses, and lunchroom staff about products containing latex and alternative, safe materials.
Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever)
Allergic rhinitis, known commonly as hay fever, is a common condition that affects nearly 20% of children in the United States. People affected by hay fever experience a disordered immune response when they inhale allergens (dust, pollen, dust mites, mold) through the mouth or nose. Hay fever symptoms include coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, fatigue, and watery eyes.
Unmanaged hay fever symptoms can significantly affect a student's ability to succeed in school. Schools can accommodate children affected by hay fever in the following ways:
- Limit the presence of allergens (pollen, mold, dust, dander) in the classroom and other common areas.
- Provide the appropriate resources and supplies (tissues, hand wipes) to maximize comfort for students struggling with hay fever symptoms.
- Modify outdoor physical education and recess activities to minimize exposure to pollen and other allergens.
Discuss Allergy Management With Your Child
Managing significant allergies can be challenging for a child. It's important to involve your child in the allergy management strategy early so the processes become second nature.
Choose a relaxed and comfortable environment to start a discussion about your allergy management plan. Make sure it is a safe and open space for your child to ask questions and express their concerns. Encourage them to talk about any fears they may have regarding their allergies, and allow them to be as proactive about their allergy management as their age and abilities allow. Reassure them that you are there to support and help them navigate their allergy management effectively.
Allergy Partners Can Help With Your Child's Allergies
If you have any questions about allergy management or if you would like to schedule an examination with a board-certified allergist, please contact our helpful representatives today.