The world can be a scary place when your child suffers from life-threatening allergies. No matter how in control you are of allergies at home, you can’t be with your little one at all times. This can make it hard to find the balance between letting your child enjoy life and managing the stress of severe allergies. However, there are steps you can take to make life a little safer for all parties involved.
The Allergy Plan
The first step in protecting your child is having an allergy plan. Meet with your child’s doctor and ask for a letter outlining the following:
- What your child is allergic to.
- How to best avoid exposure to said allergens — including reducing the risk of cross-contamination in food preparation for food related allergies.
- What medications and treatment are needed in case of an allergic reaction.
Whenever your child is under the care of anyone other than you — relative, babysitter, teacher, whoever — make sure the caregiver is familiar with this plan. Don’t just hand the plan off — take time to educate them about avoiding, recognizing, and managing an allergic reaction.
Food allergies inspire a certain amount of creativity in parents when shopping and making meals. You have to find safe options that children are willing to eat, learn how to prepare meals free of cross contamination, and how to locate allergen-free snack foods.
And then there’s the product labels. The FDA requires eight major dietary allergens (milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish) to be noted on product and ingredient labels, but other minor ingredients may not appear on the package. Furthermore, allergens often masquerade under other names on ingredient lists. If you have questions or doubts about a product, call the manufacturer before you serve it.
When you go to restaurants, let the server know your child has an allergy, how severe it is, and how important it is to prevent cross contamination. Always ask if a menu item includes your child’s allergy trigger, and if necessary, ask to speak to the chef who will prepare the food. Check out Allergy Eats to find allergy friendly restaurants in your area.
Before the school year, make an appointment to talk with the principal and school nurse and discuss your child’s situation and the school’s allergy policy. Here are three questions to ask about a school’s allergy policy:
- Where is allergy medication stored?
- Who is authorized to give allergy medications?
- What is the allergy emergency plan for field trips and other extracurricular activities?
Use the information from your child’s allergy plan and work with the school nurse to develop an at-school emergency plan that meets your child’s specific needs.
Meet with your child’s teacher to discuss what measures will be taken to prevent an allergic reaction in the classroom. Regular hand washing, a list of safe foods allowed in the classroom, and allergy-free celebration treats should be part of this conversation. Make sure the teacher is aware that some food allergens are present in craft supplies.
Prevention and Protection
How you educate your child to protect themselves from allergic reactions depends on their age. Preschool and early elementary school kids should have close supervision — they can’t be expected to speak up about their allergies. If they have a food allergy, there should be explicit instructions about what they’re allowed to eat. This can be made part of their allergy plan.
Teach young children with severe food allergies that there are specific people — like parents and teachers — who know what they’re allergic to and what’s safe to eat. Make sure they know that no one else can give them food. As they get older, they can learn more and take more responsibility for themselves. Teach them to read food labels and begin to decide what’s safe — under supervision, of course.
If your child is allergic to bees or wasps, take steps to safely remove any nests around your home. Make sure your child avoids fragrances, including hair spray, scented soaps, lotions, and oils as bees are likely to approach children with a sweet scent. Ensure they wear shoes when walking through grass and other places where bees frequent.
Teach them to hold still if a bees does land on them. Rapid movement might startle the bee and cause it to sting. Have them blow gently on bee to encourage it to move on while not startling it.
Living with severe allergies can be difficult on both kids and their parents. By preparing an action plan, working with restaurants and schools, and throwing in a good dose of prevention, you can make things slightly easier. Having allergies doesn’t mean your child has to live in a bubble — it just means they have to be vigilant.
Liz Greene is a writer and former preschool teacher from Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene