Know the ABCs for a safe school year for children with food allergies

Jul. 16, 2019

Dr. Samira Jeimy at St. Joseph’s Hospital has 10 important tips for parents of y0ungsters with food allergies starting school this fall.

Starting school is a major life step for youngsters as well as their parents. But when a child has a food allergy, that happy milestone can also be fraught with fear and anxiety.

From EpiPens and classroom cleaning protocols to bake sales and bullying – the perils for pupils with allergies is a learning curve for parents whose youngster is heading off to school for the first time.

Nearly 500,000 children in Canada are living with food allergies that need to be managed daily and the numbers are growing. For many of these children, eating away from home can pose a serious risk, which makes entering the school years a critical time of planning and preparation for parents, says Dr. Samira Jeimy, an allergist at the Allergy and Immunology Program at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

For parents of her school-age patients, Dr. Jeimy has a practical, top 10 checklist of advice. Number one on her to-do list is for parents to have an anaphylaxis action plan, arrange a meeting with their child’s allergist in the months leading up to the start of school, and review the school’s policies and procedures.

“Food allergies are associated with significant anxiety that can be compounded by the transition to a new environment,” Dr. Jeimy tells parents. “Acknowledge this and empower yourself before the school year starts.”

Dr. Jeimy’s checklist for parents also includes the following:

  1. Be comfortable with using an EpiPen and teach those around you.
  2. Read labels! Educate yourself about related foods – like peanut/lupine/pea protein cross reactivity.
  3. Talk to your child’s teacher, principal and all staff who will be taking care of your child (gym teachers, music teachers, cafeteria staff, transportation staff) well in advance. Ensure they are comfortable with an anaphylaxis protocol.
  4. Ensure the school is aware of proper cleaning procedures and hand hygiene for teachers/lunch room staff or volunteers.
  5. If the school is not able to accommodate your child’s dietary needs, a bagged lunch may be needed.
  6. Ensure that food and utensils are not shared. Ask the school to consider strategies such as assigned cubicles or designated allergy friendly zones to prevent cross-contamination of food allergens from lunches and snacks stored in the classroom.
  7. Coach your child to verbalize if they are feeling unwell. Teach them how to stay safe.
  8. Help ensure an inclusive environment. Up to one third of children with food allergies have been bullied because of their allergies. This is a growing problem in schools.
  9. Be aware of your rights as a parent. In Ontario, Sabrina’s law requires that the school board establish and maintain and anaphylaxis policy for children with food allergies. The schools are also required to create individualized actions plan for each student with food allergy.

Read more of Dr. Jeimy’s advice, including a list of reliable resources.

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Leading up to the school year, members of the media are welcome to interview Dr. Jeimy. To arrange, please contact:

Dahlia Reich, Communication & Public Affairs
St. Joseph’s Health Care London
(519) 646-6100 ext. 65294, pager 10117
About St. Joseph’s Food Allergy Clinic

St. Joseph’s Food Allergy Clinic is part of the Allergy and Immunology Program at St. Joseph’s Hospital. At the clinic, children and adults with any kind of food allergy (referral required) can be definitively diagnosed using the latest, evidence-based approaches, including food challenges where the person is exposed to the food and monitored. For certain food allergies, such as peanut, the clinic offers oral immunotherapy under very strict and careful supervision of allergy specialists. Learn more about St. Joseph’s Allergy and Immunology Program

About St. Joseph’s Health Care London

Renowned for compassionate care, St. Joseph’s Health Care London is a leading academic health care centre in Canada dedicated to helping people live to their fullest by minimizing the effects of injury, disease and disability through excellence in care, teaching and research. Through partnership with Lawson Health Research Institute and our collaborative engagement with other health care and academic partners, St. Joseph’s has become an international leader in the areas of: chronic disease management; medical imaging; specialized mental health care; rehabilitation and specialized geriatrics; and surgery. St. Joseph’s operates through a wide range of hospital, clinic and long-term and community based settings, including: St. Joseph’s Hospital; Parkwood Institute; Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care; and the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care. For more information, visit www.sjhc.london.on.ca

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