Food allergies are scary for parents of young children; they create unease and uncertainty. Educator Kerry McArthur gives you the information and tips you need to keep your little one safe.
To begin understanding allergies it is important that you know what they are. Allergies are the body’s immune system reacting to things that are normally harmless to most people.
That means that when a person is allergic to something, it is the immune system believing that this element is harmful to the body and creating an antibody called immunoglobulin. These antibodies then release chemicals e.g., histamine, into the bloodstream to fight off this “alien invader’, and it is the release of these chemicals that causes the allergic reaction.
There are different types of allergies – food, dust, medicine, seasonal – each of these will have a varying effect on different people.
One of the serious forms of allergies is food allergies, more specifically peanuts. These can creep into food without anyone being aware and can cause major reactions in people of all ages. Peanut allergy has become more and more prevalent over the last few decades and is now seen to be the most common food allergy in school-aged children.
Allergic reactions to peanuts are often severe and can be potentially life-threatening. The concern for most parents is that children are in a position to be exposed accidentally and it is very difficult to control this, specifically in public areas e.g., restaurants and schools.
Around 90% of people react to peanuts through skin redness, itchiness or hives, with the remaining people having what is termed an anaphylactic reaction, which is battling to breathe, wheezing, etc. Peanut allergy is one of the leading causes of food-related deaths.
When sending your child who has a peanut allergy to school, it is important to understand the allergy and what protocols the school can put in place to protect them.
A seemingly simple solution would be to make all schools a peanut-free zone, however this is not always practical, for the main reason that we cannot control the behaviour of other parents and how they prepare food. There are cases that are so severe and all that happened is that a jam sandwich was prepared with the same knife that made a peanut butter sandwich. Or perhaps a parent sent in food that they did not realise contains nuts, which then sets off a reaction. These instances can’t be controlled effectively, but there are certain protocols that can be followed.
- Education is the first step to solving this: having other parents understand the severity of a peanut allergy will go a long way to ensuring the safety of your child.
- Ensure that the school is clear on the allergy and understands the severity and treatment options in the event of an emergency.
- Separate food preparation utensils for the child who is allergic, even if the school is declared peanut free.
- Provide professional development to all staff to ensure that they understand allergies and how to treat them.
- Educate the children in the class or school on allergies. They will all claim to have some sort of allergy regardless of how small, and the teacher can use that opportunity to teach the class on the dangers of food allergies.
While it is important that your chosen school is absolutely clear on the type of allergy and the severity of the allergic response, it is equally important that you have supplied them with the right equipment to treat your child in the unfortunate event of a reaction. This may include leaving the chosen medication or epi-pen at the school for immediate treatment, which will greatly improve the prognosis and eventual recovery of your child.
It is important that you are clear on the food allergy protocols that the school follows and if it is not a peanut-free school, that you understand how they will be preparing and presenting food. Don’t forget about birthday celebrations, bake sale events, etc. where food may be sent in from other homes.
If your child is old enough it is important that from an early age they learn to ask the question, “Does this have peanuts?” While the other child may not know, this will prompt the responsible adult to be aware of the allergy and to act accordingly.
Ultimately you can’t wrap your child up in bubble wrap to try and protect them from the world, but you can help them and their teachers make the world a little bit safer and a whole lot more educated on food allergies.
Take the time to speak to the school and the teachers, but don’t stop there. Keep talking and keep reminding. It is easy to get so busy that you forget. Reminders are simply a red tag on the child’s bag, a highlighted note in their books, etc. – anything that will keep the awareness alive.
It must be extremely stressful when your child has a serious allergy. Knowledge is certainly power when it comes to educating yourselves, family members, child carers and so on. Even if your child doesn’t have the allergy, the chances are high that we will come to know others that do, and this information is really valuable.