Preventing allergic reactions in school

In an effort to reduce the number of allergic reactions taking place at schools, the federal government is issuing guidelines to protect children. Some of this new advice suggests that cafeterias limit the amount of nuts, shellfish and other problem foods that are served for lunch. Additionally, it has been requested that staff members have EpiPens readily available to aid a child who is experiencing a severe allergic reaction.1

Although a number of schools across the country already have their own policies when it comes to these matters, it is necessary that all have some guidelines in place as an estimated 4 percent to 6 percent of children in the U.S. suffer from some type of food allergy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2

Symptoms of allergic reactions
Children who are unfamiliar with their food allergies are at the greatest risk for experiencing a dangerous reaction. It's important that faculty, staff members and parents are aware of potential signs that something is wrong. The CDC lists common symptoms associated with food allergies as:

  • a burning or tingling sensation on the tongue or in the mouth
  • mouth, tongue or ear itchiness
  • a swollen throat that feels like there's something stuck in it
  • heaviness of tongue
  • tightness in one or both lips

A kid may also explain these symptoms as hair on his or her tongue, a frog in the throat or bump on the tongue. Depending on the severity of the reaction, signs will vary on a case-by-case basis. In any event, it's important that the child is treated immediately.

Potential causes
It is well known that many kids suffer from peanut allergies. However, there are a few foods that may be surprising triggers for a reaction:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Wheat

Along with tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts), fish (bass, cod) and shellfish (crab, shrimp), the items listed above make up 90 percent of allergic reactions, according to the Mayo Clinic.3 While some of these can easily be avoided, others are found in a number of lunch items, not to mention snacks brought in for birthdays and other celebrations in the classroom. Parents are advised to always ask the teacher of allergies in the classroom before bringing in treats to share. If one of the students in your child's class cannot eat a specific product, refrain from bringing items with it to the class. This can easily be done by reading over the ingredients list – these lists will even list if a soy-free bag of chips were made using machinery that makes other products containing soy.

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1 ABC News, "Feds post food allergy guidelines for schools" October 30, 2013
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Food allergies in schools" October 30, 2013
3 Mayo Clinic, "Food allergies: understanding food labels" January 4, 2011

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