When you manage a child's peanut allergy at home, you're able to keep close tabs on what your youngster eats. But once they go off to school, you lose that control. Nuts can hide in any backpack or lunch table. Contact with even a tiny amount of peanuts could be life-threatening for a child with a severe allergy.
Some schools have banned peanuts or set up peanut-free zones in the lunchroom to protect kids with severe allergies. But even these precautions can't block every single peanut from getting into the school and causing an allergic reaction.
Setting up a plan with the school to prevent and treat peanut allergies can keep your child safe and give you peace of mind. Just make sure that everyone from teachers to nurses and lunch staff are on board with the approach.
See Your Allergist
An allergist diagnoses and treats your child's allergies. They can offer advice on avoiding allergic reactions at school.
The school may want your child's doctor to sign a letter or fill out forms to:
- Describe the allergy and its symptoms
- Make special food requests
- Explain how to manage allergic reactions
When you visit the doctor, make sure prescriptions for epinephrine or other emergency medicines are up to date.
Create an Allergy Plan
Before classes start in the fall, set up a meeting with the principal, your child's teacher, and the school nurse. Ask about the school's allergy policy. Find out how teachers and other staff are trained to deal with allergies. And learn what the school will do to keep your child safe.
Work with the school to create an Emergency Care Plan (ECP). This document describes your child's allergy and its symptoms. It also explains in detail what the school should do if your child has a severe allergic reaction. Usually the plan will tell the school to give the child epinephrine and call 911.
Two other types of plans also cover food allergies. An Individualized Health Care Plan (IHCP) goes through each step the school should take to lower the chances of your child having contact with peanuts, spot the symptoms of an allergic reaction, and treat it. The school nurse writes this plan with help from your child's doctor.
If the allergy is severe enough, the school may consider it a "disability." Then you can put a 504 plan in place to get your child the support they need.
All of these plans may include:
- Photo of your child
- List of allergies and how severe they are
- Symptoms of an allergic reaction
- Rules your child should follow when they share food at school
- Changes to school policies, such as having peanut-free tables in the classroom and cafeteria
- Ways to treat a reaction
- Contact information for you and your child's doctor
If the school has a nurse, you can put them in charge of the plan. Teachers, lunch staff, and other adults who have regular contact with your child should also know how to recognize an allergic reaction and treat it.
The plan should also include tips to manage the peanut allergy in situations such as:
- Snack time
- After-school activities
- Field trips
- Class parties
- Trips on the school bus
As your child grows, you may need to make changes to the plan. Review it with your child's doctor, principal, school nurse, and teachers before the start of each school year.
What Your Child Can Do
How much kids can do to manage their own peanut allergy at school depends on their age. Young children will need help from adults. A teacher or lunchroom staff should oversee snack time and lunchtime.
Some middle school- and high school-age kids are responsible enough to avoid peanuts on their own. They should carry an epinephrine auto-injector everywhere they go in case they accidentally have contact with peanuts. If they're not able to do this on their own, the school nurse can keep the epinephrine auto-injector and give your child a shot during an allergic reaction.
Get your child a medical alert bracelet. It lists their allergies, brief instructions on what to do if they have a reaction, and your emergency contact number.
Check that your child has enough epinephrine to last a few months, and that it hasn't expired. Label the container with your child's name, photo, and your emergency contact information.
If your child carries their own auto-injector, check that they have it with them every morning.
Give the teacher a few peanut-free snacks that are safe for your child to eat during parties and field trips. Also leave a supply of wipes to clean your child's hands and any shared tables before they eat.
You may want to write up information about your child's allergies to share with the other students and parents. That way, they'll be aware of the allergy and know how to keep your child safe.