Allergies now a major classroom concern

Aug 21 2013 - 10:14pm

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For more and more children these days, an EpiPen might be right alongside their crayons, erasers and glue sticks.

Allergies are a major concern for many children allergic to certain foods and other allergens lingering in the classroom, so many of them are carrying around medication to stop a life-threatening reaction.

Dr. Douglas Jones, an allergist at Rocky Mountain Asthma, Allergy and Immunology in Layton said 2.2 million children with food allergies are heading back to school this week, and exposure can elicit a life-threatening situation within minutes. He said parents, in cooperation with school staff, need to take measures to ensure safety.

"There is no such thing as a mild food allergy," Jones said.

Common food allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. It's important, Jones said, to make sure children with food allergies avoid classroom snacks and sharing food with friends, as ingredients such as nuts can be in many of these products. In some cases, just being near a person who has been eating peanuts is enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

"Work with the school to establish a peanut-free lunch table," Jones said, and advocate for policies that prohibit children from sharing food there and in other settings where kids aren't supervised.

In addition, teachers, nurses and the child should all know how to use the injectable epinephrine.

Dr. R. Neil Van Leeuwen, an ear, nose, throat and allergy physician at Tanner Clinic, said for common pollen allergies, most medications can be given at home and don't need to go to school with the child. He said there are some very good 24-hour antihistamines on the market.

Most other medications for pollen allergies are given once or twice a day. If medications don't help enough, many children can receive allergy shots.

"If a child has any breathing problems with allergies or has asthma, then they will need a rescue inhaler at the school," he said. "This albuterol inhaler is given if the child develops wheezing or breathing problems, as it works quickly and needs to be readily available."

Van Leeuwen said the most important suggestion for parents is to communicate with their child's teacher and school administration, so most problems can be avoided. He also said doctors are more than happy to make sure children have their medications available.

"Most of my patients who require a medication at school will get a letter from me each year that is put on file at the school," he said.

Jones said back-to-school season is associated with a 46 percent increase in asthma-related emergency department visits by grade school children, and allergies and asthma account for more than 14 million school absences.

In addition about 80 to 90 percent of those with asthma will have exercise-induced asthma.

Another allergy concern in the classroom is class pets and children who bring their own pets for show and tell. Jones suggests teachers have a non-furry pet in the classroom.

Both physicians strongly urge parents and teachers to make sure their child is on a prevention plan and has medication readily available, no matter what the allergy trigger may be.

Jones will be answering all back-to-school-related questions online from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday. Go to http://www.rockymountainallergy.com.

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