Allergies : Handling Severe Food Allergies at School

Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.

A few years ago, Chandler mom Angie Norton faced a dilemma as her daughter, who has a life-threatening peanut allergy, was about to enter kindergarten.

Norton had a thousand questions and concerns, prompting her to co-found the Phoenix Allergy Network. She took it one step further and helped draft what would become Arizona's school guidelines on how to handle children with serious food allergies.

This year -- five years after their adoption -- those guidelines are getting an update.

The Arizona Resource Guide for Supporting Children with Life-Threatening Food Allergies has already been adopted by the state education and health services departments. Norton, a nurse by training, helps conduct training a few times a year.

Norton said since she started her drive to educate the public about food allergies, the topic has received more attention. Schools are paying more attention to precautions that need to be taken -- keeping allergens away from children and making sure multiple staff members know what symptoms to look for.

But there are also more kids with diagnosed allergies, she said.

"Over the last decade it's tripled," she said. "The latest statistics are that one in 13 children has it. That's two in every classroom."

The 30-page guidelines include information on areas around a school that may be a danger to students, such as the cafeteria, fundraisers and classroom parties. But it also includes a bullet-point list of responsibilities for the child, the parent, and the school administrator, nurse and classroom teacher. There are additional notes for coaches and after-school staff.

The updated guidelines -- which Norton hopes will be completed and adopted over the summer -- include more focus on EpiPens (a device that can deliver a dose of epinephrine, which can help in the case of a severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis) and inhalers. There will also be sections on bullying and how to address the teen environment, she said.

The guidelines will include information on Arizona's Right to Carry legislation, which allows children to carry their own emergency medication so when they have a reaction they don't have to race to a nurse or teacher.

"They're just more comprehensive," she said.

The new guidelines were developed with the medical board of the Phoenix Allergy Network.

Norton said she's seen "a huge difference" since schools started using the guidelines.

"When we started all of this, it was kind of one of those things like, 'Who died? Why is this necessary?'" she said. "But now, at the training, the school nurses and administration are saying, 'Give us more information. We have so many kids like this. Give us information on how we manage this.'"

There are also sample letters (in English and Spanish) a family member can use and a sample health care plan.

Those guidelines are used in the Mesa Unified School District, said Nadine Miller, director of the district's health services.

"Mesa is really good about taking care of special needs," Miller said.

From getting information from the doctor to making sure everyone is aware of what food is being served in the cafeteria and a child's allergies, many are involved, she said.

"We have a team meeting to talk about what the concerns are, what the reaction is. We have the parents fill out a form from the (Phoenix) food allergy network. It asks, 'How does child appear (when sick)? What are their first symptoms? What are the doctors orders: an EpiPen? Benadryl? What is the procedure of what they want us to do? We do training and make sure multiple people are trained," she said.

For information on the current guidelines, see the network's website at phoenixallergynetwork.org. Once the updated version is adopted, Norton said, it will be online.

Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

(c)2012 East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Ariz.)

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