Tips for food allergic and intolerant children for starting school

Gail Sinfield, Foods Matter's Allergy Agony Aunt, and mother of two allergic children, gives some invaluable advice.

Starting school whether primary or secondary can be a daunting experience for anyone. It can be especially worrying for children (and their parents) who have allergies. So here are some tips which may help you and your child remain calm and relaxed - and able to cope.

Your first move should be to book an appointment to discuss your child's allergy with the head or class teacher (before term begins if possible) and to provide a letter regarding your child's allergy to the school. Discussions with the school should cover all the following points.

Management Plan
• An individualised management plan should be given to your child's school (more information from the Department of Education and the Anaphylaxis Campaign). This should clearly describe your child's condition, medication details and contact details for parents.
• Always make sure you tell the school about new telephone and mobile numbers, addresses, etc.

Staff Training and Awareness
• If your child carries an Epipen, ask about staff training in the use of Epipens and how supply teachers are informed about your child's allergy.
• Ask the teacher to clarify where inhalers, Epipens, antihistamines, etc are kept. Make sure your child knows, and knows who to ask if they feel any symptoms.
• Ask the school who are the designated members of staff for your child to go to and ensure your child is familiar with this routine.

• These are prescribed for people who suffer with severe allergies: food, wasp and bee stings, latex allergy, drugs, etc.
• Consider a MedicAlert bracelet or watch for your child.
• Ensure good asthma control is being maintained if your child is also asthmatic.
Epipen has a reminder for expiry dates system which you can sign up for. There is also information about Epipens and demonstrations of how to use an Epipen.
• Remind your child to carry their Epipen at all times at school, or ask the teacher to identify a key place that is easily accessible where it will always be kept.
• Find out about carrier or protection tubes for Epipens which allow safe carrying of medication. Try Yellow Cross or Medicare Plus.

School Meals Catering
• Discuss this in depth with the school. Some schools may be able to provide suitable meals. (Recommend that they buy a copy of the Allergy Aware Schools Catering Manual!)
If you decide to provide a packed lunch try to make this varied and interesting for your child with a treat if there is a special meal at school. Menus may be available so you are able to match allergen-free alternatives of what the other children are having.
• Make a rule of ‘no sharing of snacks or lunch boxes’. Try to adopt this policy from very early on with your child. Ensure the teacher is aware and can give gentle reminders to all children.

Cookery lessons
• Check the ingredients to be used and offer to provide alternatives if possible. In cookery lessons ask the school if a recipe which excludes your child's allergen (nuts, for example) could be used or adapted so that your child can be included in the lesson.

Special Treats or Days
• Supply some special snacks or ‘birthday treats’ which your child's teacher can keep in a labelled tin so that he or she does not feel isolated if other children bring in treats for the class to share. Make sure they do not run out! If you know in advance that there will be a birthday in the class, supply your child's own allergen-free cake.

• For PE and games make sure staff know which children have asthma. Reminders from staff may be necessary about taking inhalers and Epipens to sports fields (especially if they are off site). Some children with eczema may need extra changing time to shower or apply emollients.

Seasonal allergies
• If your child has a seasonal allergy make sure that you visit your GP prior to the season for adequate medication. Advise the teacher of issues such as games lessons outside, wearing of sunglasses, etc. Try avoidance techniques or measures to eliminate exposure - such as showering hair after games lessons to remove pollens.

• Check activities such as playdough, use of seeds, feeding of class pets, etc to ensure there is no contact with an allergen. Be especially aware of any contact allergies such as eczema which could be made worse by some activities. Ask the teacher about alternative activities and also talk about distraction techniques to prevent a scratch-itch cycle. (The National Eczema Society has guidance on this.) For older children, be aware that chemicals in science classes could pose a problem.

Trips and Days Out
• Day trips and trips away will need careful forward planning – ensure you are given all details and meet the teacher to offer suggestions or discuss any points that may concern you. Ensure that the management plan and Epipens are taken by the teacher.
• Provision of extra packed lunch items, drinks, etc and spare Epipens may be useful.
• If your child is wasp or bee allergic, ensure that he/she avoids eating or drinking outdoors, especially from open cans.
• Overseas Translation cards may be useful if going abroad.

General considerations
• Remember that all children need extra reassurance when starting or going back to school and flare-ups of allergic conditions such as asthma or eczema can occur at any time.
• Tiredness due to lost sleep, if the child has allergic symptoms at night, may be a problem so always take this into account. Always advise the teacher the next day if there has been a problem so your child's needs are fully understood.
• Try to manage any flare-ups but if things do seem to be going haywire then contact your GP or allergist to ensure you have the condition stabilised and once again feel in control.

First published in 2005

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