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Back To School Basics For Food Allergic Children

Armen Hareyan's picture

More than 2.2 million school-age children have life-threatening food allergies and that number is expected to rise according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. For these children, heading back-to-school can spell increased risks unless prepared.

"Parents of food allergic children have to take an extra step when their children are in a school environment, but this is a topic that everyone should be aware of. Even if their child doesn't have severe food allergies, chances are one of their child's friends do," says leading New York-based allergist and immunologist, Clifford Bassett, M.D., F.A.C.A.A.I., F.A.A.A.A.I., Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine and Otolaryngology, at SUNY -- Long Island College Hospital and Faculty of NYU School of Medicine. Dr. Bassett offers this advice for parents and caregivers of food allergic children:

Study-Up: Parents should check their state laws and school policies to see if children are allowed to bring epinephrine auto-injectors, the standard treatment for anaphylaxis or a severe reaction, to school as there are some states and school districts that ban these life-saving devices. The American Medical Association recently voted to lobby for a national law to allow children to carry their epinephrine auto-injectors, such as Verus Pharmaceuticals' Twinject(R), with them at all times, but until the bill is signed, it's important for parents to know and understand their local laws.

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Have a Back-Up: Studies show that approximately one in three anaphylactic reactions require a second dose of epinephrine within minutes of the first dose. It's essential to keep a back-up dose of epinephrine on-hand. Twinject(R) is the only Food and Drug Administration approved auto-injector that contains two doses of epinephrine in a single, easy-to-use compact and convenient device.

Know the Drill: A food allergic child can be their own best advocate from kindergarten through college. Parents should role play with their child so they are fully aware of what they are allergic to and can ask teachers, cafeteria staff and friends appropriate questions. In addition, it's important for children to know the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as shortness of breath and hives, and have key people to turn to, including school nurses, teachers, coaches and friends, in an emergency.

Be a Label Detective: Learn how to interpret and "de-code" food labels for hidden ingredients that may wreak havoc if a child has a food allergy. Even one-fiftieth of a teaspoon of a suspect allergen can cause a potentially life-threatening reaction in a severely food allergic child. Cross-contamination of cooking surfaces, utensils and cookware can pose a danger, especially if it's not communicated to cafeteria and restaurant staff. Preparing a "food allergen ingredient card" for the chef and kitchen staff to ensure a safe dining experience can help.

Create ICE Cards: Give children identification or In Case of Emergency (ICE) cards that have personalized information that includes their allergens, emergency contact info and what to do in an emergency. This can easily be handed to immediate caregivers in an emergency situation.

Make Time To Meet: Parents and caregivers should schedule a pre-meeting with school officials to educate them on their child's needs and talk to their local allergist to stay up to-date on the latest in food allergy management. Organizations like the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and parenting support groups offer great resources and information.