Carolinas HealthCare System

Healthy Living
What Every Parent, Caregiver and Educator Should Know About Children and Food Allergies

By Dr. Ekta Shah

According to the Centers for Disease Control, food allergies affect an estimated 4 to 6 percent of the children in the United States. Allergic reactions can be life threatening and have far-reaching effects on children and their families, as well as on the schools or early care and education programs they attend.

Facts About Children and Allergies
  • Approximately 88 percent of schools in the United States have at least one child with food allergies
  • 16 to18 percent of food-allergic children have experienced a reaction at school
  • Fatal food-related anaphylaxis has occurred in the school setting and is often associated with delayed administration of epinephrine
  • Eight foods account for over 90 percent of food-allergic reactions: cow's milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish
Planning Ahead

Parents and school staff should work closely together to help minimize the risk of an accidental exposure to a food allergen in the school setting.

  • All children with a food allergy should have an emergency action plan indicating the signs and symptoms of a food-allergic reaction, appropriate treatment based on the severity of the reaction and emergency contact information. This plan should be provided to the school and reviewed with the child’s teacher, school nurse and other staff members involved in the child’s care.
  • All children with a food allergy should have antihistamine and auto-injectable epinephrine available at school. In fact, two auto-injectable epinephrine devices should be provided, as some children may require more than one dose of epinephrine. The location of these medications should be clearly defined and easily accessible. Appropriate administration of auto-injectable epinephrine should be reviewed with the school staff.
  • Avoid using foods identified as allergens in class projects, parties, snacks, science experiments and cooking exercises in allergic children's classrooms.
  • Consider designating food-free zones or allergen-safe zones.
  • Use non-food incentives for prizes, gifts and awards.

Dr. Shah is a pediatric allergist/immunologist at Charlotte Medical Clinic.

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