Managing Food Allergies in the Classroom: Tips for Teachers

Food Allergy Awareness Week is May 10-16, but anytime is a good time to brush up on your knowledge of this potentially life-threatening condition. If it seems like food allergies are more common than ever, you’re right. From 1997 to 2011, food allergies in children increased 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you haven’t had a student with a severe food allergy in your classroom yet, odds are you soon will. The Food Allergy Research & Education organization estimates one in 13 children, or about two students in every classroom, has a food allergy.

Tips for teachers

It is important for teachers to have a guide to follow to ensure the utmost safety when engaging in classroom activities. Teachers should remember to:

  • Get an up-to-date list of students and their food allergies.
  • Keep the classroom food-free when possible.
  • Prohibit foods that students are severely allergic to from ever entering the classroom.
  • Be cautious when celebrating a birthday or holiday and try to come up with activities that do not involve food. Examples include creating exciting crafts, giving the students extra recess time or distributing “no homework” passes. Students will enjoy these gifts just as much as a delicious treat.
  • Make sure to keep epinephrine (Auvi-Q, EpiPen, or Adrenaclick) accessible just in case a reaction develops.
  • Assign an allergy-friendly seating chart for lunch or classroom activities involving food.
  • Take into account what sorts of food will be encountered on a field trip, and whether the trip would endanger one of the students.
  • Advocate for the students. Promote a positive atmosphere in the classroom and make sure students don’t feel outcast because of their food allergy.
  • Inform all relevant staff of their particular role in case an emergency develops.
  • Ask parents to give instructions on what treatment should be administered to the child if there were to be an allergic reaction in the classroom.

How to advise parents

Being an informed teacher is not the only way to keep the students from experiencing food allergy reactions. Parents need to know what allergies are in the classroom, especially ones that are severe and can have drastic reactions. Teachers should:

  • Make sure parents are aware of the class’s allergies to prevent any accidents.
  • Urge parents to not make food for the class, but if they do, to avoid ingredients from the prohibited list.
  • Tell parents to be cautious of what they pack in their child’s lunch. Advise them to check to make sure the food they pack will not endanger a student if he/she were to interact with the ingredient.
  • Encourage parents to inform the teacher right away so a memo about that student’s allergies can be distributed to all the parents as well as the faculty.

What does a reaction look like?

As a teacher, it is really important to know what mild and severe allergic reactions look like so you can take appropriate action. For mild allergic reactions, symptoms may appear as:

  • Hives (reddish, swollen or itchy areas on the skin)
  • Eczema (dry, itchy rash)
  • Redness of skin around the eyes
  • Itchy mouth or ear canal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Slight, dry cough
  • Odd taste in mouth

More severe reactions could appear with symptoms such as:

  • Swelling of lips, tongue and/or throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Turning blue
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Weak pulse

How students might describe a reaction

Students have creative imaginations, so it is no surprise that they would come up with various ways to describe their symptoms if they were having an allergic reaction, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE):

  • “This food is too spicy”
  • “My tongue is burning”
  • “It feels like something is poking my tongue”
  • “My tongue/mouth itches”
  • “My tongue feels like there is a hair on it”
  • “My mouth feels funny”
  • “There’s a frog in my throat”
  • “There’s something stuck in my throat”
  • “My tongue feels full/heavy”
  • “My lips feel tight”
  • “It feels like there are bugs in my ears”
  • “My throat feels thick”
  • “It feels like a bump is on the back of my throat”

Steps to take if a reaction occurs

If an allergic reaction develops in one of your students, it is important to know the proper steps to take.

  • If your school has a nurse, assess the student’s symptoms and immediately contact the school nurse to administer the proper medication.
  • Call the student’s parents or guardian to let them know what has occurred and whether they need to take further actions.
  • If there is no school nurse available, assess the student’s symptoms and get the correct medication.
  • Once you have injected the medication, call 911 to notify them of the situation.
  • Notify the parents or guardian so they are aware of their child’s condition and can act accordingly.

Keep these tips handy and review regularly so that you’re ready to act in case of emergency.

Learn More: Click to view related resources.