Caring for Children with Food Allergies

Caring for Children with Food Allergies Staff who work in schools and early care and education (ECE) programs should develop plans for how they will respond effectively to children with food allergies. Although the number of children with food allergies in any one school or ECE program may seem small, allergic reactions can be life-threatening and have far-reaching effects on children and their families, as well as on the schools or ECE programs they attend. Any child with a food allergy deserves attention and the school or ECE program should create a plan for preventing an allergic reaction and responding to a food allergy emergency. Studies show that 16%–18% of children with food allergies have reacted to accidentally eating food allergens while at school. In addition, 25% of the severe and potentially life-threatening reactions (anaphylaxis) reported at schools happened in children with no previous diagnosis of food allergy. School and ECE program staff should be ready to address the needs of children with known food allergies. They also should be prepared to respond effectively to the emergency needs of children who are not known to have food allergies but who exhibit allergic signs and symptoms. The symptoms of allergic reactions to food vary both in type and severity among individuals and even in one individual over time. Symptoms associated with an allergic reaction to food include the following:

 Mucous Membrane Symptoms: red watery eyes or swollen lips, tongue, or eyes.

 Skin Symptoms: itchiness, flushing, rash, or hives.

 Gastrointestinal Symptoms: nausea, pain, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, or acid reflux.

 Upper Respiratory Symptoms: nasal congestion, sneezing, hoarse voice, trouble swallowing, dry staccato cough, or numbness around mouth.

 Lower Respiratory Symptoms: deep cough, wheezing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or chest tightness.

 Cardiovascular Symptoms: pale or blue skin color, weak pulse, dizziness or fainting, confusion or shock, hypotension (decrease in blood pressure), or loss of consciousness.

 Mental or Emotional Symptoms: a sense of “impending doom,” irritability, change in alertness, mood change, or confusion.

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