By the time a child with a food allergy or food intolerance enters college, he or she will be wonderful at managing their food intake. They will know how to explain and educate people who are handling their food and they will know how to handle a food emergency. This takes practice and starts in early childhood when the child first enters school or early care and education programs.
If you have a school-aged child facing food allergies and intolerances, you have already become a master at providing your child with safe food. Sending your child to school can feel stressful as you worry that your child will stay safe and that the school is prepared to handle their allergy. Parents that do not have a child struggling with food allergies may or may not understand the serious implications of food allergies and food intolerances. Regardless, we all need to work together to keep our children safe.
Thankfully, schools now address the importance of handling food allergies appropriately. Food allergies affect an estimated 4-6% of children in the United States and many more children experience food intolerances. Plans are now developed in schools and early care and education programs to prevent allergic reactions and the staff is prepared to respond to a food allergy emergency. Schools need the help of every parent and child to follow the rules related to food allergies in order to keep school safe for all kids.
Education is the first line of defense!
Staff, food service workers, parents and children need to be educated on food allergies in order to create and maintain a healthy and safe educational environment. Most pre-schools and schools are now nut-free institutions and provide “allergy-safe” tables in their cafeterias; some students with more severe allergies have individualized plans. Each school offers different guidelines and it is imperative that we follow their regulations on handling food allergies. Each parent must take the responsibility of sending in appropriate food items that meets your school’s requirements.
What is a Food Allergy?
- According to the CDC, “A food allergy occurs when the body has a specific and reproducible immune response to certain foods. The body’s immune response can be severe and life threatening, such as anaphylaxis. Although the immune system normally protects people from germs, in people with food allergies, the immune system mistakenly responds to food as if it were harmful. Not all allergic reactions will develop into anaphylaxis.”
- Eight foods or food groups account for 90% of serious allergic reactions in the United States. These include Milk, Eggs, Fish, Crustacean Shellfish, Wheat, Soy, Peanuts and Tree Nuts.
Symptoms of Food Allergy (as described by children):
- It feels like something is poking my tongue.
- My tongue (or mouth) is tingling (or burning).
- My tongue (or mouth) itches.
- My tongue feels like there is hair on it.
- My mouth feels funny.
- There’s a frog in my throat; there’s something stuck in my throat.
- My tongue feels full (or heavy).
- My lips feel tight.
- It feels like there are bugs in there (to describe itchy ears).
- It (my throat) feels thick.
- It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue (throat).
The symptoms and severity of allergic food reactions to food can evolve for one person over time, and can be different from individual to individual.
Studies show that 16%–18% of children with food allergies have had a reaction from accidentally eating food allergens while at school. In addition, 25% of the severe and potentially life-threatening reactions (anaphylaxis) reported at schools happened in children with no previous diagnosis of food allergy. Staff should be ready to address the needs of children with known food allergies AND they need to be prepared to respond effectively to the emergency needs of children who are not known to have food allergies but who exhibit allergic signs and symptoms.
What is a Food Intolerance & Sensitivities?
- A food intolerance can look similar to a food allergy, as there are sometimes the same signs and symptoms, like physical reactions to certain foods. They are generally less serious and often limited to only digestive problems. With a food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without trouble. Food intolerances and sensitivities are not life threatening.
What we can do?
- If your child has a food allergy, you must inform the school and create an accommodations plan. If your child suffers from food intolerance or sensitivity you should also make the school aware.
- Teach your children age-appropriate facts about food allergies. They need to understand the importance of hand-washing, not sharing food, allergen-safe zones and personal conduct. They need to be aware and understand the importance of accepting people with food allergies.
- As parents, we need to understand the absolute importance of reading labels of all food and snacks sent to school to make sure they meet regulations.
- We must work together to keep our children safe!