Many school districts have individual policies on food allergies, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are trying to take preparation and response to the next level with a series of guidelines for schools and care provides.
Although the full release, titled "Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Centers," spans 108 pages in the format available online, the agency identified five priority areas that should be addressed at each education facility that provides food to students.
1. Ensure food allergies in children are managed daily.
2. Be prepared for food allergy emergencies by maintaining emergency medicine on site.
3. Educate staff members about food allergies.
4. Educate children and family members about food allergies.
5. Create and maintain a healthy and safe educational environment.
FOOD ALLERGIES ON THE RISE
According to Food Allergy Research and Education, one in 13 children have a food allergy. That averages out to about 2 students in each classroom. The CDC estimates are a little more conservative, with the agency reporting that one in 20 children have a food allergy.
Furthermore, studies indicate that 16-18 percent of school age children who have food allergies have had a reaction in school. Of those, a quarter hadn't been diagnosed with a food allergy yet.
The CDC found the prevalence of food allergies among children increased 18 percent between 1997 and 2007, and allergic reactions to food are the most common cause of anaphylaxis in community health settings.
Eight foods or food groups account for 90 percent of the serious allergic reactions in the country, according to CDC data. Those are:
- Crustacean shellfish
- Tree nuts
IDENTIFYING FOOD ALLERGIES IN CHILDREN
A food allergy makes itself known when exposure to a certain food causes the body's immune system to react as though the food were harmful, and some reactions can be severe and life-threatening.
Since health topics tend to be complex, speaking about them with children can be difficult. The CDC suggests parents and education professionals keep an ear open for the following phrase children may use to alert someone to a potential food allergy:
- It feels like something is poking my tongue.
- My tongue (or mouth) is tingling (or burning).
- My tongue (or mouth) itches.
- My tongue feels like there is hair on it.
- My mouth feels funny.
- There's a frog in my throat; there's something stuck in my throat.
- My tongue feels full (or heavy).
- My lips feel tight.
- It feels like there are bugs in there (to describe itchy ears).
- It (my throat) feels thick.
- It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue (throat).
Children with food allergies are also 2 to 4 times more likely to have asthma or other allergic conditions. Some food allergies can exacerbate these conditions.
Symptoms and severity of reactions differ between individuals and can also change over time, but the biggest concern is anaphylaxis -- a sudden allergic reaction that can cause shock and death.