Kids with food allergies: What to do before getting to the classroom

Today's guest blogger is Lynda Mitchell, president of Kids with Food Allergies (KFA), a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

With Labor Day weekend coming up, it’s time to start focusing on getting back to school.  For parents like myself, a range of emotions – excitement, reflection and apprehension – marks this time of year.

I can remember getting my son, who has food allergies, ready to go back to school over 16 years ago. He was well prepared and understood the seriousness of his allergy.  Still, he was just a little boy. And as a first-grader he did end up having a severe allergic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis, at school. Thankfully, I had a food allergy management plan in place on the first day of school; he had a prescribed epinephrine injector, and a school nurse who was aware of his allergy. His reaction was handled perfectly, and I will be forever grateful.

That experience underscored the importance of having epinephrine auto-injectors at school for children who may experience life-threatening anaphylaxis. Since then, legislative progress has been made across the country in ensuring a safe school environment for kids with food allergies. Pennsylvania has a law that allows students to self-carry their prescribed epinephrine auto-injectors, for example.  

Although Pennsylvania did not make the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s (AAFA) recently released State Honor Roll of Asthma and Allergy Policies for schools, Sen. Matt Smith has introduced legislation that would require schools to maintain a supply of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors in a secure location to be used by designated personnel to treat an anaphylactic reaction. Since studies show that up to 25 percent of epinephrine administrations that occur at school are in individuals with no prior history, having a supply of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors at school may save children’s lives.

Looking back, there were steps I took as a parent in the weeks before school started to ensure my son’s safety. As you get ready to send your child back to school this year, here are tips that will help ensure a safe school year.

Begin the education before your child gets to the classroom.

It is essential to teach your child, in an age-appropriate way:

  • How to recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction
  • How to tell an adult as soon as possible if a reaction begins
  • To avoid sharing food
  • The importance of hand washing before and after eating
  • To report teasing, bullying and threats
  • How to say "no thank you" when offered food not from home, or if you are allowing him to eat food provided at school, to learn how to read labels, or ask a trustworthy adult to read labels to make sure any food eaten is safe for him

Develop an individualized health care plan (IHCP).

Work with your school nurse and other designated staff using the information in your child’s doctor’s reports to create a comprehensive, customized IHCP for school food allergy management and treatment. An IHCP identifies the types of responsibilities, training and services required to keep your child's environment safe and how to respond to an emergency. The IHCP should also include an emergency care plan, also known as a food allergy emergency care plan or anaphylaxis emergency action plan.

Form a partnership with your child’s school.

A good relationship with a school is the most essential key to success in keeping your child safe at school. Quality communication and trust between parents and school staff are essential so you can work together and update your child’s plan as his needs change.

With the precautions children with food allergies and their parents have to take, school – and sometimes life – can seem overwhelming. But, there are many great resources available to parents. Kids with Food Allergies has an excellent resource center. If your school needs food allergy training resources, free modules are available at

Educating families and communities is essential to saving children’s lives and keeping them safe and healthy. Kids with Food Allergies is committed to educating, supporting and advocating on behalf of children. On Sunday, Sept. 8, we'll hold our 5th annual Kids With Food Allergies fundraising walk and expo with food allergy awareness and advocacy. Join us!

Have a safe, productive and enjoyable school year!

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