How to cope with allergies at school

Allergy UK provides essential advice you need when sending your little ones off to begin classroom life…

Starting school with allergies

Are you sending your child to school for the first time? Nerve-wracking isn’t it? It’s even scarier if your little one has a food allergy.

Allergy UK is the leading national charity for people affected by allergy in the UK and here, the charity provides the best advice for how to deal with starting school with an allergy.

Produce a management plan

A management plan is a written document that informs the person reading it exactly what the problem is and what to do about it. Your child’s plan should include details of signs and symptoms which would alert someone to suspect an allergic reaction. It should also provide guidance to help the person follow a set procedure in case of an emergency, and of course give details of any medication which needs to be given. Medication and the management plan should then be kept together in an easily accessible place that all staff are aware of. It is also useful to supply an up-to-date photo so that staff can easily identify your child.

Make sure you list all correct and current contact telephone numbers, as well as information about what your child needs to avoid. If you are going to be away or out of the area, provide the school with a letter giving alternative contact details for the time you may be uncontactable. 

Book an appointment to discuss your child’s allergy with the head/class teacher before term begins, and take with you written and detailed information about the allergy, as well as your written management plan. If you need some help with writing it, your doctor, nurse or paediatrician can help you, as well as the Allergy UK Helpline. The school may also need a letter from your doctor regarding your child’s allergy, as well as your signed permission for them to administer their medication if needed.

Starting school with allergies

Other things to consider

It is important to think of any areas where allowances may need to be made for your child. For example, they may need time to put on emollient after swimming, to collect their packed lunch, or to go to have any medication they require. These issues can be dealt with in a non-disruptive way and a routine can soon be established as long as you inform the teacher and check with your child that the plan of action is working.

Identify allergen hotspots

Remember to consider lessons that your child may take part in and the potential allergens which they may come into contact with. Research has shown that children who have asthma and allergies often have reactions due to triggers in the classroom, so it is not unreasonable to insist that your child’s allergy is taken into account when planning lessons. It will be necessary to ask the teacher to check the suitability of materials used in lessons to make sure they will not affect your child.

Starting school with allergies

Staying safe at lunchtime

Food allergy is becoming increasingly understood by schools, so some of them will have processes in place to minimise risk to children with food allergy during lunch hours. A common approach is to have a no food-sharing policy. This means that all children, not just those with allergy, only eat their own food. This way there is no confusion or risk with regards to whether a child with a food allergy can or cannot have some of their friend’s food.

We do not recommend a ‘no nuts’ policy in schools as this can lead to the children having a false sense of security and stop checking whether foods are safe for them to eat. It also doesn’t help those with all other allergies.

Arranging a meeting with the people who manage the catering should be made before the school year has started. The head teacher of a school does not usually have any managing role regarding the school catering, but should be able to put you in touch with the right people.

Some schools encourage children with allergies to bring a packed meal, however, your child is entitled to a school meal, and many schools are now beginning to take food allergies into consideration when providing their food.

You can help this process by:

  • Giving the catering staff a copy of a picture of your child and their management plan. While schools no longer want sensitive information with pictures on display, the picture can be kept in a file so that new staff can identify the children with food allergy.
  • Approach the school early so that it does not come as a shock to the catering staff that they need to cater for a child with a food allergy. You will probably know that you have a place at a school before the end of the previous school year; this would be a good time to visit and start taking steps to talk to the school caterers.
  • If you are given prescription foods, you may wish to let the school caterers have a store of this. Give the caterers your phone number so that they can contact you directly if more information is required.
  • Ask if there is a specific member of the catering staff who will help your child each day and give them the required ‘safe’ prepared meal.

Starting school with allergies

Access to medication…

Adrenaline Auto-Injectors (AAIs) are prescribed for people who suffer with severe allergic symptoms, or those that might be at increased risk. AAIs deliver a potentially life-saving dose of adrenaline in the event of a severe allergic reaction.

  • Consider a medic alert necklace/bracelet/watch for your child to inform staff about the severity of their allergy
  • Keep a note of AAI expiry dates both at school and at home. Epipen, Jext, and Emerade have a reminder for expiry dates system, which you can sign up for
  • If your child is old enough, regular reminders about carrying auto-injectors or knowing where they are kept are important
  • Remember to discuss other areas your child may go to around the school or off site for sports and make sure there is still access to their medication. This should be stored in a named box with a copy of the management plan, your child’s photo and instructions for use. All staff should be familiar with where this box is kept.
  • Find out about carrier/protection tubes for AAIs which allow safe carrying of medication if your child is older.
  • Ensure good asthma control is being maintained if your child is also asthmatic (your child should be regularly reviewed by your family doctor or specialist
    for this).

New legislation passed in Westminster in July allows schools in the UK to keep spare AAIs on site for emergency use. Schools will be able to purchase AAIs from pharmacies without a prescription. This legislation comes into effect from 1st October.

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