LEWISTOWN A back-to-school shopping list usually consists of things like pencils, composition books, erasers and new clothes. But with the increasing risk of environmental allergies and the potential for childhood food allergies, that list should also include an action plan, said Dr. Pratibha Vakharia, Burnham area allergist and immunologist.
An action plan is the best way for parents to prepare the school for any potential allergic reactions, Vakharia said. It's a written document of allergies, possible symptoms and the proper treatment should a reaction occur. A pediatrician or allergist can complete the form during a schedule appointment, she said.
"Roughly 10 percent of children have a food allergy and, with the approaching fall season, children are more likely to have environmental allergies," Vakharia said. "With an action plan, parents are able to discuss any issues with teachers and school nurses. It's always better to be prepared."
Allergic reactions to food are more likely to occur at school because the gastrointestinal tract has not fully matured in children under 6 years of age, Vahkaria said. Without the proper amount of antibodies, proteins that shouldn't be absorbed enter the body causing an allergic reaction.
The most common food allergies in children are peanuts, cows milk and seafood, states the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. More severe reactions are caused by permanent allergies like peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish as compared to allergies that are usually outgrown like wheat, eggs, soy and cows milk.
It's the parents' responsibility to make their child aware of any food allergies they have, said Ruth Yoder, school nurse at Mifflin County Junior High School. There should be daily discussion about foods to avoid so children fully understand how to handle the lunch room.
"Students should know what food they are allergic to and they should be aware that many foods contain nuts, eggs or milk even if it doesn't seem obvious," Yoder said. "Parents should also make sure their child knows the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction and can communicate that to school personnel."
In accordance with the Pennsylvania Guidelines for Management of Food Allergies in Schools, each school must have policies and procedures in place to minimize potential life-threatening reactions in all situations.
Each school nurse in Mifflin County stocks diphenhydramine and epinephrine auto injectors in case of emergency, Yoder said. There's also an alert placed in the student management system so those working with a student who has allergies is aware of the danger, she said.
Parents should also be aware if their child has any environmental allergies, Vakharia said. Allergies and asthma account for more than 14 million absences and a 46 percent increase in emergency department visits by grade school children, she said.
"Children are exposed to many possible allergens during the school day," Vakharia said. "They cuddle with the class pet, play in the leaves during recess, inhale chalk dust during class and constantly forget to wash their hands."
While parents may not be able to control what a child gets into at school, they can take precautions to limit allergen reactions at home, Vakharia said. Make sure your child takes a shower after school to remove pollen clinging to skin and hair. Parents should also monitor the expiration date on all medications, she said.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology suggest parents use hypoallergenic sheets, covers and pillows as well as washable curtains and shades to limit allergen exposure. Parents should also limit the use of humidifiers, which cause an increase in dust mites.
For more information on food and environmental allergies visit the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology website at www.acaai.org/allergist or contact Dr. Vakharia at 248-9550.