Going back to school with Food Allergies
Food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern that affect an estimated 4%–6% of children in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control. Allergic reactions to foods have become the most common cause of anaphylaxis in community health settings. In the United States, 90% of serious allergic reactions come from the following foods: milk, eggs, fin fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts, but any food could potentially cause an allergic reaction.
What can your school or care program do to help?
What are the Symptoms of an allergic reaction?
Mild allergic reaction symptoms include itchy/ runny nose, sneezing, itchy mouth, mild itch, few hives, mild nausea, mild abdominal discomfort. For mild symptoms from a single system, antihistamines such as Benadryl may be given with very close monitoring. If there are mild symptoms from more than one system (example hives and nausea) then Epinephrine should be given and immediately call 911. Closely monitoring is crucial in reducing risk of fatality since early anaphylaxis reactions can present as mild reactions and escalate quickly. Have Epinephrine available if needed.
What should you do if someone is experiencing an allergic reaction?
Signs and symptoms can become evident within a few minutes or up to 1–2 hours after ingestion of the allergen, and rarely, several hours after ingestion. Remember that acting quickly can reduce the risk of fatality. Most allergic reactions resolve easily but not all.
If someone has an allergic reaction, have someone call 911, lay the person flat, raise legs and keep warm. If vomiting or breathing difficulty lay them on their side or have them sit up. Alert emergency contacts, stay with the person and watch them closely for changes. If symptoms worsen can give Epinephrine and can be repeated in 5-10 minutes if the symptoms do not improve.
The single best thing you can do is educate yourself to what an allergic reaction could look like, and what you need to do to help them safely get the emergency care needed. FARE.org is an amazing website full of resources. Another very important issue is to help a child with food allergies learn to be proactive to take responsibility for what they are ingesting by asking what is in prepared foods and reading food labels. Remember that children with food allergies often feel “different” than their peers and it is our responsibility to help support and nurture them be successful in navigating healthy alternatives.
Dr. Michelle Walker DNP