Managing severe allergy in school

Karen Waggott's seven-year-old son Jamie has a nut allergy. He has not only learned all about his allergy but he has even written a book about it! But Jamie's school did not seem to know that much about nut allergy, so his mum wrote an allergen management policy that schools could follow for their severely allergic children.

It is extremely comprehensive but, as Karen says, the policy has not been approved by any outside body or medical experts, so schools wishing to use it will need to check through it with their nurse and ensure they are complying with statutory requirements.

You can buy Jamie's book, 'Tom's Secret Agents' on Amazon here in the UK or here in the US; you can read Jamie's and Karen's story below – or you can skip straight to Karen's severe allergy policy: for a summary click here; for the full policy click here.

“Hi my name’s Jamie. I have a nut allergy. I made a book called ‘Tom’s Secret Agents’, you can buy it on Amazon.”

This is the opening line of the blog I asked my young son to help write. With a bit of encouragement, he added.

“I discovered I had a nut allergy in 2013, when I was 5 years old. My mum wanted to learn lots about it and looked at websites like Anaphylaxis Campaign. I have an identical twin brother, he’s annoying, but he doesn’t have a nut allergy, which is even more annoying.”

And that was that. So allow me to fill in the blanks. I had a vague suspicion Jamie had an allergy after he became agitated after a meal and was sick. I checked the ingredients – I remember thinking cashew oil was the only suspicious ingredient. Jamie’s father was skeptical. Now, with hindsight, and a lot of research, I know a trip to the doctors would have been a good idea. But life is busy with twins and, at that age, they seemed to be ill every other week – we’d had numerous trips to doctors and hospitals with a foot broken at nursery, split lip and chest complaints.

Nuts, it’s an allergy…

So it was another year before we KNEW it was a nut allergy, when their dad shared some mixed nuts with the boys. Jamie became agitated immediately, complaining about an itchy mouth. We rinsed it out, it progressed to an itchy throat. I immediately suspected allergy, although knew little about them, and we drove to the nearest out of hours - 20 minutes away. A spoonful of Piriton resulted in violent vomiting and an hour or so later we were home. All was well the next morning, but later that day Jamie seemed to be developing a cold, which later in the week triggered his asthma. This is not unusual. What was different was this asthma wasn’t responding to oral steroids, resulting in his first admission to hospital and two nights in the high dependency unit. I was assured it was unrelated to the allergy; we strongly suspected his immune system was suffering the aftermath.

A GP appointment, one Epipen and a referral to the allergy clinic followed. The skin prick test showed positive for tree nuts. Four more Epipens came and no more nuts were allowed, not even hazelnuts, which Jamie had been happily eating in his cereals. Sorted.

A cold the same week as the skin prick test saw another admission to hospital with asthma. This wasn’t any worse than his normal cold-related asthma. It responded well to oral steroids and he soon recovered. This time Jamie was prescribed Montelukast and it’s made a huge difference – we haven’t needed to visit the doctor or A&E with severe asthma since. The previously advised doubling of his steroid inhaler was like trying to put out a fire with a teaspoon of water.

However, a year after the nut incident we realised we weren’t ‘sorted’. Another reaction, despite following the hospital guidelines, caused his face to seriously swell up – we’d failed to reduce the frequency of reactions. This time it was a delayed reaction to fruit jelly sweets with no nut ingredients, but a nut warning. We’d been advised that Jamie could tolerate foods with nut trace warnings, but trawling the internet persuaded us otherwise.

Tom's Secret Agents

From the mouths of allergic babes

Feeling the best way to protect Jamie was for him to be fully informed, we talked and watched Anaphylaxis Campaign videos together. He decided to script, star and direct his own video for their YouTube channel. In it he explains an idea he had one bedtime that helped him visualise the strange things going on inside his body.

He imagined that in his tongue were tiny Secret Agents that, on detecting even the smallest speck of nut, would send messages all around his body and trigger a huge fight. It was suggested Jamie illustrate his story and, with added graphic design skills and edits from Mum, he found himself the proud author and illustrator of a great little book explaining a big issue to little people.

Helping schools examine their allergy approach

We’ve since spent a busy year finding out how best to keep Jamie and some of his allergic friends safe, ranging from setting up a Facebook page to join the online conversation, to writing an allergy policy for school.

Jamie’s allergy story continues. He has had minor reactions to some (not all) oranges and some sweets, the latest being Jelly Tots and Fruit Pastilles, which have not caused problems before. So perhaps it wasn’t nut traces after all. Fruit sweets are now off the menu and a hospital allergy appointment is booked.

You can buy Jamie's book, 'Tom's secret Agents' on Amazon here or here in the US – or you can skip straight to Karen's severe allergy policy: for a summary click here; for the full policy click here.

First published September 2015

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