Healthy Kids     K-12    

Do you have an allergy action plan?

It could save your child's life


John Scinto, MD, of Hudson Valley Asthma & Allergy Associates advises that children with food allergies have an emergency action plan on file with their school.

My son, who is allergic to nuts, has his action plan posted at various locations in his school. It includes his picture and a recommended course of action that a non-medical person can easily follow based on symptoms that could surface.

The action plan is color coded: Yellow alert – signs of an allergic reaction include rash, itching, nausea, coughing and wheezing. Action:  Send child directly to school nurse for close observation. If the nurse is not on duty, call parents for pick-up/Benadryl (antihistamines) medication and continue to monitor child for Red Alert signs.

Red Alert – Signs of Respiratory Attack/Anaphylactic Shock include gasping for breath, swelling of throat/mouth and closing of airwaves, respiratory attack. Action: Use Epi-pen Jr. immediately, call 911 Rescue Squad, then call nurse on property, then child’s physician, then parents.

Emergency action plans and policies and procedures enable supportive teachers, cafeteria staff, nurses and other supervising adults to help families manage food allergies. Denise Billings, food service director for Orange and Ulster Counties of the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), endorses an environment where parents work together with education officials to help care for children while they are at school.

“This is my tenth year,” Billings says, “and we definitely have more children bringing in notes from physicians. There’s a fair amount with tree nuts as well as peanuts. The dairy sensitivities are a concern but we see many types of food allergies.”

In Goshen in particular, BOCES uses a computer software system to help track food allergies. An allergy alert field raises red flags on students with food allergy concerns.  But school administrators must receive updated medical information to provide the best response and meet this challenge.

“If the parents keep us informed, we can work with them,” Billings says. “It’s one less thing that parents have to be worried about.”

I still worry about cross contamination and allergic reactions, but I’ve learned that each new situation requires an investment of time to remind others about food allergies. When Liam was two, and I dropped him off one morning at his new childcare center, he waved and smiled as I left him in the toddler play area.

When I reached my car, I realized that I had forgotten to leave his extra change of clothes, essential items requested by the center.   I returned to the nursery and found the children taking seats around a table lined with bowls of dry cereal.  “Snack time already?” I asked the nursery attendant.   “Yes, they all love these Honey Nut Cheerios,” she answered.

I saw the cereal box on a supply cart. My heart dropped. Cheerios, yes; nut, no. Liam could not eat these and I was grateful that I had returned. I tried my best to stay calm while I revisited Liam’s allergies – which had been meticulously reviewed by the admissions staff before he was accepted there.

In our multi-tasking modern life, people need to be reminded – often. I try to help others understand but not to alarm them. With continuous education, the risk of living with food allergies can be managed. If I can help Liam and the people around him reduce anxiety, life with food allergies may be a little easier for all of us to swallow.

Mary Ann Ebner is a freelance writer. She and he family live in Orange County.