Did you know that 1 in 13 kids in the United States have a food allergy? This means that there is an average of two kids in each classroom. If you have never experienced an allergic reaction, it can be difficult to understand what it can mean. Here are a few things moms with children who have food allergies wish you knew.
- Having a food allergy is serious.
“Movies and TV shows sometimes play food allergies for laughs, but every three minutes, a severe reaction to food sends someone in the U.S. to the emergency room. There’s nothing funny about that,” says Jenny Kleiman Dowd of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
There is no cure and avoiding the triggers is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction. It’s not easy though. Did you know that even trace amounts of an allergen can trigger a reaction in some people?
Only eight foods account for 90% of all food allergy reactions:
- Tree nuts
- Fish & Shellfish
But that doesn’t mean that all other foods are safe. Almost any food can cause sensitivity, even if you have never had a problem with that food before! Surf Sweets products are always free from the Top 10 most common allergens which includes the eight listed above.
Symptoms can develop rapidly – often within minutes. However, it can take up to two hours for symptoms to present after exposure. In the most serious of cases, anaphylaxis can occur. This requires immediate medical treatment, including an injection of epinephrine and a visit to the ER.
This all sounds scary, right? Schools can play a major part in helping all kids become more aware of food allergies while making a point of giving kids who have an allergy the opportunity to enjoy school life, safely. How can schools be more inclusive?
- Making your school more inclusive is a two-way street.
Schools should have as much information on food allergies as possible. If your school doesn’t, then a good starting point is the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT), which has free and downloadable school programs.
Being the parent of a child with a food allergy means that you’re going to have to work with the school as a team. Share your ideas, but listen to theirs too. Hopefully, they will already have a plan in place for assisting your child. If they don’t, then see this as an opportunity for you to put the right plan in place for your child as well as other children who may be similarly affected.
Megan Lavin of Allergy Awesomeness provides great insight: “I try to remember that the relationship with my food allergic child’s teacher is a two-way street. If I’m hoping for good communication and accommodations to be made, then I can be doing things on my side as well. I’ve found that when I’m willing to volunteer, bring supplies that she needs, and respond quickly to the teacher’s emails it helps us feel like a team keeping my child safe. I try to ask questions and brainstorm together so they feel a part of the process. Instead of coming off as entitled and demanding, I’m trying to be seen as a partner. By doing my part to support the teacher above food allergy needs, I’ve found lovely relationships each year.”
Many non-allergic students don’t understand food allergies and sadly, there’s a chance that this could result in bullying. It’s important that the class understands the seriousness of the situation, but that they can also help. Why not make learning about allergies fun?
- Use a downloadable resource such as FAACT’s school lunchroom poster
- Encourage learning about food allergies in a fun way, such as through the Allergy Adventures
- Talk about what is safe to eat. Perhaps even introduce sharing a healthy, allergen-free snack to the class. Food blogger Nicole Dawson, aka Allergylicious, has some great recipes on her website.
- For students with food allergies, danger isn’t confined to the cafeteria.
Jenny from FARE shares: “Nearly half of food allergy reactions with a known school location occur in the classroom, and another 10 percent happen on the playground.”
- Handwashing is healthy for everyone, including kids with food allergies.
“Teaching your child to wash hands before and after eating is a win-win lesson. Handwashing removes food residues that can harm a child with food allergies, and it helps stop the spread of back-to-school colds or flu.” For more information, check out FARE’s infographic on how to keep back to school stress-free and safe for all kids.
- Don’t blame the kids.
“My son says that he wishes the teachers wouldn’t put blame on him and announce that ‘they would have food in the classroom but because someone has a food allergy, we won’t be allowed to do that in here this year.’ It’s not like we have a choice and we’re not trying to ruin everyone’s fun. It’s just that we don’t want to die!” says Nicole.
- Living with food allergies can still be fun.
If your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, don’t panic. As long as you ensure that the correct procedures are in place in case of exposure, then food shouldn’t be the enemy.
Nicole of Allergylicious says, “Food allergy kids are probably some of the most caring, empathic, resilient kids you will meet. They learn how to advocate for themselves and others on a daily basis. They have to take on a huge responsibility, sometimes at an incredibly young age. They feel the weight of being a burden even though they don’t want to be one.
Food-allergy kids are grateful for those who stand beside them, include them and accommodate for their needs, even though they wish they didn’t have to. Because of their food allergies, they see those around them who also need help… and are willing to stand-in for them and become their friends. They are grateful and aware of what others take for granted, like eating whatever and wherever they like. Food allergy kids are resilient, having pushed through some of the most difficult challenges (ie. ongoing doctor visits, testing with a lot of needles, ER visits, ambulance trips and multiple EPI injections) and although I wish my child didn’t have food allergies, I am thankful for the young man he is because of it.”
Choose safely manufactured snacks, such as our own candy and focus on what a child can enjoy, just as much as what they need to avoid.
Make school packed lunches exciting. Encourage your child to chat with their buddies about how food can be fun, even with a food allergy.
Talk honestly with your child about their allergy and include their friends too. If your child does have a reaction at school, they need to feel safe. Having a helpful, caring friend with them could make a difference in keeping them calm until you arrive.
Does your child have a food allergy? What tips can you give?