NEWARK–While the start of a new school year is a time of excitement for most students and parents, for the families of children with food allergies, this time can also bring fear of exposure to foods that trigger allergic reactions.
Up to three million children in the United States are estimated to be affected by food allergy, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The number of children with food allergies went up 18 percent from 1997 to 2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“With a true food allergy, an individual’s immune system will overreact to an ordinarily harmless food,” reports Joel Mendelson, MD, Director, Division of Allergy / Immunology at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. “Food allergy often may appear in someone who has family members with allergies, and symptoms may occur after that allergic individual consumes even a tiny amount of the food.”
Food allergens – those parts of foods that cause allergic reactions – are usually proteins. Most of these allergens can still cause reactions even after they are cooked. The most common food allergens – responsible for up to 90 percent of all allergic reactions – are the proteins in cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts.
“Almost all children with milk, soy, wheat, or egg allergy will out grow it before adulthood, but peanut allergy is only outgrown about 21 percent of the time,” says Dr. Mendelson.
When food allergy is suspected, ACAAI recommends that patients be referred to an allergist who can determine which food allergy tests to perform, determine if food allergy exists, and counsel patients on food allergy management.
To prepare for a return to school for a child with food allergies, start planning the year before your child enters the school system, ahead of the beginning of the new school year. Getting off to a good start depends on a little extra thought, information, planning and communication.
The following are suggestions from Division of Allergy / Immunology at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey for managing a return to school with a food allergy:
- Write a letter to the school principal to request a meeting to introduce your child.
- Create a school profile (with a photo) to highlight your child’s medical information.
- Schedule an introduction and planning meeting with the school nurse as well. You want the nurse’s full attention, so make an appointment.
- The goal of meeting with the school nurse is to develop a coordinated care plan for your child. A coordinated care plan needs to include all of the physician-recommended precautions and treatment recommendations. An Individualized Health Care Plan (IHP) focuses on your child’s individual needs.
- Bring a letter from your pediatrician or allergist with you to this meeting, as well as any needed medications. Make sure medications are not out-of-date.
- Find out the rules all children will follow in your child’s class regarding sharing of food, guidelines for lunch, snack times, parties, and field trips.
- Be prepared for emergencies. Anaphylactic reactions caused by food allergies can be potentially life-threatening. Children who have experienced an anaphylactic reaction need to have access to injectable epinephrine and antihistamines at school.
For more information on asthma and allergies, call Newark Beth Israel Medical Center’s referral line at 1-888-724-7123.
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