Sending a child with severe allergies off to school can be a frightening prospect for parents who are all too aware of the dangers lurking in the big, wide world. That is why it is important to make controlling allergies a routine part of their lives, beginning as early as the age of two.
When kids are babies, parents can keep a close watch on what they eat, but as they get a little older, begin teaching them to ask before putting anything in their mouths. Children around the ages of three and four are able to learn what they can and cannot eat because of their allergies.
By the time your child is ready to start school he or she should know what their allergy triggers are and which foods they must not eat, no matter how tempting. In order to be completely safe, instruct them not to take food from anyone but their parents or caregivers. Food is easier to control than insect stings, so make sure kids know the symptoms of anaphylaxis, which include hives and itching, a warm flush, feeling like there is a lump in their throat, difficult breathing, swollen tongue or throat, nausea, and dizziness.
Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, is life-threatening and usually comes on quickly, between three and thirty minutes of exposure, so it is a good idea for your child to wear a medical alert tag.
Tell teachers, administrators, bus drivers, coaches, playground supervisors, choir directors, and all other adults in your child's school environment about his or her allergy and make sure they know how to respond in the event of an emergency. An allergy action plan, developed with the help of an allergist, is a great way to keep everyone informed about your child's allergic triggers and the symptoms of anaphylaxis. If your child has been prescribed epinephrine, note where that medication is kept, how to administer an epinephrine shot, and when to call 911.
Your child should know that it is always okay to ask for help. Toward that end, have him identify several responsible adults he would be comfortable going to if he should feel an allergic reaction coming on.
Having a severe allergy is something your child is going to live with everyday, so try to treat it as just a normal part of life. Kids will look to their parents for guidance on how to react to their situation, so it is best to keep the drama to a minimum. Every now and then they may need to be reminded about how to recognize and react to an allergic reaction. Role playing is a great way to keep kids alert without scaring them.
Middle school is a good time to reassess your child's allergy routine as students are still monitored fairly closely. By middle school you should be able to trust your child to say no to foods that trigger allergy attacks. She should also know how to read food labels, as well as the importance of washing hands frequently and keeping them away from her face and mouth.
Use your own judgment, in consultation with your child's allergist, about whether it is okay for him or her to carry their own epinephrine injectors. If so, make sure they are instructed in how to use the medication correctly.
By the time your kids are in high school and their school and personal schedules are no longer regular, you are going to have to trust them to monitor their food and behavior to avoid anaphylaxis—a scary notion considering you are dealing with teenagers. That is why is it so important to begin at an early age to set rules and routines that will carry them safely through their school years and into adulthood.