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Plan ahead for students' food allergy solutions

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A food allergy does not have to keep a student out of the cafeteria, but parents should work with the school in advance to develop a plan of action.

The National Institute of Health defines a food allergy as "an abnormal response to a food triggered by the body's immune system." Allergic reactions can cause serious illness and even death. The institute estimates 6 to 8 percent of children under the age of 3 and 2 percent of adults have true food allergies.

A food intolerance is more common than a food allergy. The immune system does not cause the symptoms of a food intolerance, but the symptoms can look and feel like those of a food allergy.

Jane Clary, a registered nurse and health promotion and health education specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said parents of a child with a food allergy should make arrangements for their child before school starts. The teacher, school nurse, principal, and coach or other appropriate school personnel should be informed of the child's condition and the child's dietary needs.

"Provide a written action plan to the school nurse, teacher or whoever is supervising the child to let them know what to do if the child experiences an allergic reaction," Clary said.

Clary said in addition to informing school staff of the problem, the parents of students with a known food allergy should provide the needed medication and doctor's orders to the school for their child. In some cases, this will include an EpiPen, an auto injector that delivers epinephrine to counteract severe allergic reactions.

"If you have a young child with a known food allergy, it would be wise to have them wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace," Clary said.

In cases of a severe allergy or young child, it might be necessary to prepare the student's lunch and any snacks at home rather than expect that child to make correct selections from the school cafeteria. Take the same precautions with after-school care and other activities the child is involved in that may include food.

Common food allergies for children include milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy and tree nuts such as walnuts or pecans. Clary said children typically outgrow allergies to milk, soy, wheat and eggs, but severe allergies and allergic reactions to nuts and shellfish tend to last for a lifetime.

Reactions to a food allergy can be hives, itching, eczema, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, light headedness or fainting. Allergies also may cause swelling of the lips, face and throat area. Severe reactions include chest pain or tightening, throat tightening or difficulty breathing and tingling in the hands or feet. If any of these severe reactions occur, immediately call for emergency medical help.

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Released: Aug. 18, 2005
Contact: Dr. Jane Clary, (662) 325-5014

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