Allergy and asthma preparation: an important item on the back-to-school checklist

(BPT) - Sending children back to school comes with a long checklist of items to remember. For example, you need to know what school supplies to buy. You will want to visit the school to find the classroom and meet the teacher. You will also plan after-school activities full of fun enrichment opportunities. If you have a child with asthma or allergies going back to school this fall, you need another item on that list. Specifically, your checklist should also include connecting with the teachers, school nurse and other school staff about your child’s symptoms, treatment and prevention strategies.

One out of 13 children in the United States has a food allergy. This means there’s a good chance that two children in your child’s class will need plans in place to prevent exposure to certain foods. Some states have laws to protect children with asthma and allergies in a school setting. You can find out which states by visiting The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) publishes this report each year. It informs the public about how each state measures up on student health and safety policies. 

It is important that you prepare your child, his teacher, school nurse, classmates and others about managing his allergy or asthma condition at school. Discuss ways to prevent exposure to triggers to ensure his classroom environment is a safe zone where he can learn and play. Here are some helpful tips to consider:

 * Get an asthma or anaphylaxis action plan – This plan will inform staff at the school about managing your child’s condition, like worsening asthma and allergy reaction symptoms. Plan in advance to get your child’s doctor or nurse practitioner to review and sign the action plan. Make sure you bring it to school on the first day, if not sooner along with a fresh supply of any prescribed emergency medicines.

* Share a copy of the asthma or anaphylaxis action plan with all appropriate staff members – This way staff will be able to help should something happen while your child is in their care.

* Meet the teacher – Your child’s teacher has a lot to do at the beginning of a new school year. There are many new faces and a lot of information to process. In light of this, try to schedule a quieter time with the teacher, school nurse and other necessary school staff to educate them about your child’s allergies or asthma. It is best if this can be done before the first day of class. Many school districts have policies for handling food allergies. Review these policies and make sure that your child’s specific needs will be addressed. One helpful idea is to have the school draft a letter to be passed out to all students in the classroom or sent home to parents explaining what special policies will be in place.

* Encourage your child to share information – It is important for your child to be able to communicate about his condition to his classmates, friends and the teaching staff. Make sure he knows to tell a grown up if he is experiencing symptoms. Communication helps others become more aware of his condition. This leads to compassion and understanding and cooperation. People – even his closest friends – might forget about his allergy or asthma. An open dialogue is important to help others understand the condition. 

* Discuss medical emergency policies – Make sure your child’s school has procedures in place for identifying symptoms and for treatment of emergencies. Review these procedures with the school nurse. Make sure your child’s action plan is on file and that his medications are accessible. Your state will have laws governing what the school can and cannot do. For example, all states except one allow for students to self-carry their prescribed asthma inhalers or epinephrine auto-injectors. Epinephrine auto-injectors are used to treat anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. Currently, 38 states allow schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors for use in an emergency, but the numbers keep growing. Check out the 2014 State Honor Roll to see where your state stands regarding policies for children with asthma and allergies in school settings.

As your child prepares to start school again this fall, these actions can help ensure he, his classmates and the school staff are informed about ways to avoid triggering his allergies or asthma, and actions to take if his condition flares up. And then you can delete another item from the back-to-school to-do list.