As the dog days of summer wind down, pool days and late nights chasing fireflies make way for school supply lists and class schedules. August is National Back to School Month but, for kids with food allergies, it’s not always as easy as ABC123. Back to school means navigating an uncertain and often scary world away from the safe, controlled environment that food allergy parents and caregivers work so hard to provide.
According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), more than 15 percent of school-aged children with food allergies have had a reaction in school. This reality understandably creates fear and anxiety in parents and children alike. But there are steps you can take to prepare children with food allergies and reduce the risk of accidental ingestion at school. Here are six important tips to help parents of food allergy kids be ready for the school year
1. Do Your Homework.
Back to school means paperwork – lots of paperwork. When you have a child with food allergies, it is critical to prepare in advance by completing all the necessary health office forms, allergy action plans and medication dispensing releases well in advance of the first day of school. Many of these forms require a doctor’s signature, so budget a few extra days for turnaround so your child’s allergist or pediatrician can process it.
And don’t forget to make extra copies of completed forms and take photos of them on your phone for easy access before delivering them to the health office. These forms are also often needed to participate in extracurricular activities, sports or field trips.
2. Mind the Meds.
Call in refills for essential prescriptions like epinephrine auto-injectors and inhalers now, so you can get your child’s medication to the school health office in time for the first day of school. And ask your doctor to provide an adequate number of refills to allow you to refill meds as needed during the school year without having to wait on your provider for reauthorization.
Make a list of over-the-counter medications (antihistamine, hydrocortisone cream, etc.) that your child will need to have on-hand at the school health office, and buy enough to cover the entire school year.
It’s a good idea to contact your school to see if the administration offers the option to drop off medications the week before school starts, so you don’t need to remember to send them in on what is always a hectic first day.
3. Communicate with Teachers and Staff.
As soon as you know who your child’s teacher(s) will be for the year, contact them to introduce yourself and let them know about your child’s allergies. Ask about school allergy policies and classroom snack plans. Depending on the severity of your child’s food allergy, consider requesting that foods containing the allergen be prohibited during in-class snack time. Ask the teacher to send a written notification to parents of all kids in the class with snack guidelines and restrictions in advance of the school year.
An ongoing dialogue with teachers and staff will help facilitate successful school year and reduce the risk of cross contamination and allergic reactions.
4. Get Involved.
Consider volunteering with your home and school association or as a homeroom parent to make it easier to stay on top of school events involving food. This brings with it the added bonus of being able to supervise classroom parties and holiday celebrations in person at a time when that many schools have more stringent rules as to when parents can visit their child’s classroom.
5. Plan Allergy Friendly Lunches.
Sit down with your child and create a list of allergy friendly foods that they like to eat. Don’t reinvent the wheel on this one–packing school lunches can be a tiresome chore at the end of a long day. Include options that are easy to make or grab-and-go. Depending on your child’s allergies, fresh fruits and veggies or pre-packaged foods with allergens clearly listed on the labels are best bets.
Reusable bento boxes make packing a breeze with organized spaces to ensure a well-rounded meal. A water bottle in a unique pattern or color and your child’s name clearly marked on it will ensure that drinks are not mixed up or accidentally shared.
If your child is interested in eating food from the cafeteria, call your school’s food services and ask to see a menu and allergen list. Inquire about measures taken to prevent cross contact.
Review with your child what foods are safe for them to eat and what your rules are for buying these foods. It is helpful to have an agreed upon day when your child will eat cafeteria food–Pizza Fridays, for example–and stick to packed lunches the rest of the week.
6. Talk to Your Child.
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for back to school is talk to your child. Have a plan in place for the first day of school that includes where to sit in the cafeteria (some schools offer nut-free tables) and the location of the heath office.
Encourage your child share their concerns, and be empathetic to their anxieties. Bullying is a sad reality that many food allergy kids face. In fact, about one in three kids with food allergies report that they have been bullied because of their allergies.
Let your child know that the school guidance counselor is always available should they feel overwhelmed or experience bullying at school.
7. Start School Allergy Ready
Telling your child about all the steps you have taken will help prepare them for a successful school year. By planning in advance and openly communicating with your child and their teachers, you will create a safe space for your food allergy kid to learn, grow and thrive!
Comment below and share your favorite tips for helping children be allergy ready for back to school.
About Intrommune Therapeutics
At Intrommune, we are dedicated to improving and protecting the lives of the over 220 million people worldwide who suffer from life-altering food allergies. Our revolutionary oral mucosal immunotherapy (OMIT) treatment platform is a patient-friendly solution that conveniently incorporates allergy immunotherapy into a patient’s established teeth brushing routine. Our lead product, INT301, has entered Phase 1 clinical trials for peanut allergy desensitization.
Visit our website to learn more about our mission to develop simple, safe and effective options for food allergy sufferers so they and their loved ones can live without fear.