Nov
04

As a parent, it can feel scary sending a child with severe food allergies off to school. And yet, thousands of children with food allergies go off to school each year with great success. My child with multiple food allergies is now in 5th grade and has not had a reaction at school. It is possible! As the numbers of children with food allergies continue to rise, the latest stat is that 1 in 13 young children have food allergies, schools and teachers have certainly become more educated and make it possible for our children to thrive in school.

I 100% believe teachers are partners and guides in our children’s education and want to keep them safe. To help ensure that my child’s teacher understands food allergy basics, and the specifics for my kiddo, I typically set up a meeting before school starts to review the Food Allergy Action Plan from our allergist and share and some additional high-level information about food allergies I’ve learned over the years.

Every time I’ve done this, teachers were grateful for the information and let me know that some of the information was new to them. Feel free to share this post with your child’s teacher or make your own handout customized for your child with any of these tips. This is certainly from my lens as a parent (not a doctor!) and is meant to be positive, affirming and help create a partnership in dialogue and action between me as a parent and the teachers caring for my kiddo. I hope it’s helpful for other parents and teachers!

10 things teachers need to know about food allergies

  1. Know the student’s allergies and non-allergies. It is important to know what the student is allergic and not allergic to. Not every student who is allergic to peanuts is also allergic to almonds, or gluten or food dyes.
  2. Physical safety is critical. Of course, the student’s physical safety is the most important thing – this means not allowing allergens in the classroom, avoiding them at lunch, preparing for how to manage a reaction and treating a reaction quickly. Some classroom activities you have each year may include food, such as Stone Soup or gingerbread houses. With just a little planning and communication, we can usually make these work with some minor adaptations. Please let the parents know if you are planning to use anything that has food and they can help you brainstorm safe options.
  3. Emotional safety is important, too. Please also consider the student’s emotional well-being. Being excluded from birthday treats or sitting alone at lunch can be emotionally difficult and make the child feel isolated and lonely. Consider not allowing food treats for birthdays and instead focus on non-food items such as pencils. And be intentional about planning activities which are safe and inclusive for all students in the class. A great saying for this is to “Exclude the food, not the child.”
  4. Frequent food allergy talk can make the student uncomfortable. Other than moments you are intentionally teaching the class about food allergies to keep the student safe, please do not mention the food allergies unless it’s really important. Please do NOT ask him/her to list off all the things he/she’s allergic to (you would be surprised to hear how many adults ask students this question before anything else). Instead talk with the student about their interests, such as their favorite game or sports, etc.
  5. Food proteins can’t be killed. Food proteins cause allergic reactions. Unfortunately, you can’t “kill” them with cleaning chemicals or hand sanitizer – they need to be “removed” (washed away) with soap and water (preferably) or baby wipes. Using hand sanitizer just moves the food proteins around, like trying to get glitter off your hands with only hand sanitizer. Spraying a desk with Lysol won’t do anything to remove the food proteins unless you immediately wipe the surface with a clean paper towel.
  6. Cross-contamination is a real thing. Also called cross-contact, this is when food proteins have transferred onto things you wouldn’t normally think would be a problem, such as tables, toys, water fountains, dishes or food that was touched by allergens or a person with those allergens on their hands. This can cause a severe reaction if it is ingested through the mouth or by even touching the eyes or nose. For example, a student eats peanut butter on their toast for breakfast and comes to school. They haven’t washed their hands and touched a table. Then the student with allergies touches that spot on the table. They’ve now been exposed to their allergen. If the item that’s contaminated touches the student’s food (from a chef’s hands or a spatula) then the child would likely ingest that allergen and be in danger.
  7. Skin reactions can happen, too. Some people call this a touch reaction, or a contact reaction, and can happen when an allergen touches the skin but is not ingested. The student can break out in hives in that spot. It is generally not life-threatening, however, it could escalate if that allergen is ingested. If you see a hive on the skin (away from the mouth), it is important for the student to wash their hands and the skin where you see a contact reaction, monitor for other symptoms and check the action plan. Hives near the mouth are usually a sign that the allergen was ingested.
  8. Anaphylaxis is serious. You’ve likely heard of anaphylactic shock. This is the same thing that can happen with a serious food allergy reaction – it is sudden in onset and can cause death. With food allergies, this happens when the body’s immune system tries to attack an allergen that has been ingested. The student’s blood pressure can drop, the throat, lips and tongue can become swollen and limit or stop breathing, they may vomit or have diarrhea and have red spots (hives) or red streaking on the face, neck and chest.
  9. Time is of the essence. It is important to treat reactions quickly according to the student’s Allergy Action Plan – don’t hesitate to see if it will get better or wait because you are afraid of taking the next step. In a severe reaction, an EpiPen (or another epinephrine auto-injector) must be given within minutes. For example, hives on the face + even one or two coughs signal the need for epinephrine.
  10. Have no fear. Don’t be afraid to use the EpiPen – it can save the student’s life! It won’t put the student in any danger and the only side effect is a fast heartbeat (like drinking a lot of caffeine). As parents, WE WILL NEVER BE MAD IF YOU USE THE EPI. Or a nurse. Or another parent. If our student needs epinephrine, please make sure they get it. This is usually when teachers tell me the school protocol for administration, which typically includes calling the nurse and having her/him assess the child first. It’s still important to me that they know that I will not be mad if they break school protocol or encourage the nurse to administer epi. I also pull out a sample EpiPen at this point and we practice it together. 🙂

If you are a teacher reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your interest and efforts to keep children with food allergies safe on your watch. Chances are really high that they will have a successful year because you are educated and care so much.

If you are a parent reading this, I’d love to hear how your allergy conversations go with teachers. If you use this list, please let me know if it’s helpful!

 

You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.

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3 Responses to “10 things teachers need to know about food allergies”

 
  1. Erin Carlson says:

    Missy,
    I’ve used your training documents multiple times. This year our 4 year old started at a new preschool and our 2 year old changed rooms at his daycare. The documents and time spent talking through them have always been incredibly well received. All the teachers have asked great questions and really like setting off actual epi pens.
    One question – do you train all teachers, including assistant or specialty teachers (gym/music/library) yourself? I’ve varied that a bit based on my comfort level with the lead teachers and am curious how others handle it.

    • Missy says:

      Hi Erin, so glad they were helpful!!! I think our first year with Kindergarten all the specialists were invited to attend and many of them came. Since then usually just the teacher + a para if they are usually stationed in that room. I think it’s always fair to offer to invite others if they are interested! I’ve usually worked through the principal and kind of follow their lead… 🙂

  2. Sarah says:

    That is a great list! We’ve noticed a quite a change in school policies over the years, making the back-to-school conversation easier each year. Besides the safety information, our biggest goal at the meetings is to try to make sure teachers understand that contacting us in advance can make parties and activities inclusive and fun for my kids. I’m so glad we’ve never had a reaction at school, but we have had disappointments that could have been prevented.

 

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