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Going Back to School with Food Allergies: What Parents Need to Know

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The school year is in full swing, but we know that sending a child with food allergies back to school can be a bit stressful. We’re here to help you understand what you need to do to keep your child safe and happy at school.

When Should Your Child Carry Epinephrine?
Typically, when kids reach junior high, or 7th to 9th grade. But it depends on your child. Some important things to think about are whether your child feels comfortable carrying it, if you think they’re ready, and if they need it because they go to different places a lot, like school, aftercare, sports, or their grandparents’ house.

“Finding advocates for your child with food allergies can make a significant difference,” says Stephanie Leonard, MD, who specializes in Allergy/Immunology at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. “Having friends who are aware of their allergy and watch out for them, teachers who ensure their safety and inclusion, and staff who are trained to recognize allergic reactions and administer medications are key factors in creating a positive school experience.”

Epinephrine at School
Most schools keep epinephrine with the school nurse. That’s good because it’s safe and the medicine stays at the right temperature. But what if the nurse is far away or not there? You can talk to the school about keeping epinephrine in the classroom or letting your child carry it.

Do You Need a 504 Plan?
There’s something called a 504 plan that can help protect your child’s rights at school. Many schools already have rules for food allergies, so talk to the school first. If you’re still worried, you can think about getting a 504 plan, especially if your child has lots of allergies or has had really bad reactions before.

Dealing with Bullies
Bullying can happen to kids with food allergies. About 45% of food-allergic kids say they’ve been bullied. Talk to your child and make sure they know how to tell you if it happens. You should also let the school know so they can stop it.

Keeping Your Child Safe
Every kid with food allergies should have an Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan, two epinephrine auto-injectors, and some allergy medicine at school. Talk to your child’s teacher and the school staff about food rules in the classroom and during trips. If your child plays sports or does after-school activities, make sure someone knows about their allergies and where to find their medicine.

“Sometimes, approaching the school about food allergies can seem daunting, especially if good policies are not already in place,” adds Dr. Leonard. “It can be advantageous to connect with other families dealing with food allergies to work together and advocate for necessary policies.”

When to Use Epinephrine
If your child has a serious allergic reaction, use their epinephrine right away. It’s safe and can save their life. Use it when they have trouble breathing, swallowing, or have other serious symptoms. If you’re worried, don’t wait – use it and call 911.

After Using Epinephrine
After using epinephrine, take your child to the doctor, even if they start feeling better. Allergic reactions usually go away in a few hours. Don’t give more medicine at home unless the doctor says to.

Find Support
It’s important to have people who understand your child’s allergies. Encourage your child to make friends who know about their allergies and ask teachers to keep them safe. You can also team up with other parents of food-allergic kids to make sure everyone is protected. Some programs can help teach your child’s classmates about food allergies to prevent bullying.

“Don’t forget to have regular check-ins with your child about how they are feeling regarding their food allergy at school,” says Dr. Leonard. “Letting them know that you are there for them and will advocate on their behalf can make a significant difference.”

Remember that talking, planning, and learning are your best tools to keep your child safe and happy at school. If you have questions or need help, don’t be afraid to ask your child’s doctor or look for support from food allergy organizations.