For parents of children with food allergies, education and communication are key to a successful and safe school year. Creating a partnership between parents, physicians, teachers, the school nurse, coaches and other school staff is important for food allergy management, as all of them play a role in keeping the classroom and food-allergic children safe. Parents should also think about volunteers in the school – especially chaperones during field trips. Kids spend upwards of eight to 10 hours at school away from their parents; therefore, it truly requires a team effort to ensure that this environment is safe for them.
The most common food allergies are peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish and fish.
When it comes to food allergies, education is extremely important. In general, understanding the signs of an extreme allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, can help you recognize the symptoms and call for help. Possible symptoms include hives, wheezing, throat swelling, stomach pain, vomiting or passing out. No matter the allergy, parents can work with their child’s allergist to create an emergency anaphylaxis plan. This plan should list all of the child’s known allergies, the child’s medication dosage and what to do if the child has an allergic reaction. Once they’ve put this plan together, it can be a tool to educate and share with teachers and caretakers.
While avoidance of the allergenic food is paramount in preventing reactions, there are now potentially curative treatments available. The Allergy and Asthma Center of NC is now offering oral immunotherapy (OIT) to patients with peanut allergies. Through OIT, patients consume small amounts of their allergenic food twice daily. The first dose and every increase of dosage is done in the office, with the allergist monitoring the patient. Over time, the patient may develop a tolerance to the food so that they can consume small amounts safely. If there are no reactions during the escalation phase, your child could be eating a full serving of the allergenic food in four to five months. They plan to offer OIT to patients with egg and milk allergies later this year.
EpiPens are common tools used to treat severe allergic reactions, and children with severe allergies may benefit from having one nearby. If your child needs to have one on hand, it’s important that their teachers and caregivers are aware and know how to use one. EpiPens do expire and need to be replaced yearly.
Fortunately, Cone Health has a network of allergy/immunology specialists and related health care providers dedicated to treating allergies and improving the quality of life of those who suffer from the condition.
Joel Gallagher, MD, is an allergy and immunology specialist at the Allergy and Asthma Center of NC and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. Dr. Gallagher received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Arkansas and completed medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He completed his pediatric residency at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. His fellowship in clinical allergy and immunology was completed at the Medical College of Wisconsin.