In children, the most common allergies are to cow’s milk and egg, followed by soy, peanuts, tree nuts and wheat. The majority of children will lose their allergies by age three to five years. But allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shell fish are generally prolonged, which is why these four allergies are the most common amongst adolescents and adults.
Here are some tips to help you support your child with a food allergy:
- Avoid spreading food that is not safe for your child to eat by washing your hands and your child’s hands with soap and water before handling food.
- Prepare and serve foods with clean utensils and other kitchen items and on clean surfaces.
- Teach your child how to manage their food allergies. You can start teaching your child even at a young age.
- When old enough, teach your child to read labels.
- Also teach your child how and when to use an adrenaline autoinjector, and to tell an adult if they are having an allergic reaction.
- After the diagnosis, focus on safe foods your child can have, rather than what they can’t have.
- Start with plain foods with simple ingredients. From there you can look for new recipes that use safe ingredients.
- Educate family, friends and others who will be with your child about your child’s allergies.
- Be sure to tell your child’s school and anyone responsible for your child about his or her food allergies.
- For children with eczema, limiting their diet to try and reduce eczema does not work and can lead to poor nutrition. It can also increase the chance of them developing food allergies. Regular use of steroid creams and moisturisers are the best way to manage eczema.
Prepare before your child (who has allergy to certain food) starts school
- Tell the school about your child’s allergy as early as possible. Be clear about which foods or other allergens may trigger an anaphylactic reaction.
- Provide the school with a written diagnosis and an individual management plan from your treating doctor. This should include details of prescribed medicines, such as adrenaline or antihistamines.
- Visit the school and ask about other potential risks. For example, are children exposed to food allergens during cooking and craft lessons? What can the school do to reduce the risk of insect stings?
- Work with the school to develop an emergency action plan.
- Make sure appropriate staff members are trained and confident to administer medicines.
Get your child off to a good start
- Until you and staff are comfortable with care, discuss the possibility of attending the school with your child. This provides support for the teacher while they are settling into a new school year.
- Supply necessary medicine and ensure it is clearly labelled, stored correctly and kept up to date.
- Make sure an adrenaline auto-injector (such as an EpiPen®) travels with your child at all times between home and the classroom. Have a second, back-up unit stored in an unlocked cupboard in the school office.
- Make sure teachers and other staff are aware of prevention strategies and that they are implemented.
Help teachers identify your child
- It may help to do something like opt for a different coloured hat in the first year or two of schooling, until your child is more able to communicate and teachers are more aware of their needs.
- Provide a copy of your child’s requirements, details of the emergency action plan and a recent photograph of your child (dressed in school uniform) to all staff members and find a suitable place in the staffroom to display it.
- It’s recommended that your child wear a medical information bracelet or chain, especially as they become more independent.
Educate casual or relief teaching staff
- Ask your child’s permanent teacher to place a note in the roll book to alert relief staff to your child’s allergy.
- Supply a laminated copy of your child’s requirements, details of the emergency action plan and a recent photograph of the child (dressed in school uniform) to their teacher so this information can be placed where relief staff will notice it.
Avoid sharing things
- Ask teachers to tell the other children in their care NOT to offer any food to your child.
- A simple explanation using key phrases can help young children understand how important it is not to share food with your child, eg, “They get very sick and have to go to hospital if they eat someone else’s food.”
- Provide your child with their own pens and pencils and make sure they don’t share them. Some children suck these, putting your child at risk.
Plan for special events
- Ensure your child or the teacher carry the emergency kit on school excursions, sports days and special days.
- Remind teachers and other carers of the importance of having a mobile phone for emergency contact when away from school.
- Ask the school to store some of your cupcakes in the staff room freezer so your child can join in with birthday celebrations.
Involve your child in staying safe
- Teach your child from a young age not to accept food from others.
- Provide a lunchbox that is clearly labelled and remind them not to trade food with friends. Be creative in providing safe food treats for your child.
- Encourage your child to become independent. Remind them to always take their medicine to school. It can be kept in an insulated lunch bag, together with a copy of the emergency action plan.
Keep up to date
- Record and check expiry dates of auto-injectors used at school and at home.
- Ensure each unit is replaced prior to expiry.
- Revise the emergency care plan annually or sooner if there has been:
Watch out for the school tuck shop and drinking fountains
- Put a photo of your child inside the tuck shop, with a notice to let canteen workers know that your child should not be given food.
- Encourage children not to put their mouth directly on the drinking fountain and let water run over the bubbler before drinking from it.
Prepare for afterschool care
- Let parents and carers know about your child’s risk of anaphylaxis.
- Suggest safe foods for afternoon tea, eg, fruit.
Come to a joint agreement of management in this environment.