Food allergies have been big in the news lately. People whose food allergies are severe enough that they need to carry auto-injected epinephrine with them have gotten attention because their life-saving medication has become cost-prohibitive. Although a two-pack of EpiPens cost about $100 back in 2009, they’ll set you back about $600 at today’s prices.
That’s a lot of money – especially when you consider that allergists recommend that those two EpiPens stick together because it’s not uncommon for a second dose of epinephrine to be needed when the first doesn’t control the allergic reaction.
So, if the parents of a child with food allergies want two EpiPens available at school, home and when out and about, and since those EpiPens expire after a year, that adds up to a lot of money.
In the face of widespread criticism, Mylan, the maker of EpiPens, has announced that patients will be provided with instant savings cards to cover up to $300 of out-of-pocket expenses.
Hopefully, that will help to ease the financial burden that parents of allergic kids face as they prepare to go back to school.
Of course, procurement of EpiPens is only one thing on the allergy parent’s back-to-school checklist.
Here’s a look at what that list should look like:
Your key asset in handling your child’s food allergies at school is the relationships you build with the people who spend all day with her. These are the people you are entrusting with your child’s life—no exaggeration. You want them on your side.
Make sure your child is physically and emotionally safeguarded, of course, but don’t ask for so many accommodations that you make enemies of the people who are protecting your child in your absence. Here’s how to strike a balance:
Don’t go overboard.
For example, if coming into contact with the raw egg in mayonnaise or salad dressing causes your child to have a severe reaction, feel free to ask that such items not enter the classroom, but don’t ask that food items with baked-in eggs be banned from the classroom.
Know what goes on in the classroom and what agreed-upon procedures are followed, but don’t make yourself a nuisance to your child’s teacher. Volunteer to help out, make safe supply and snack donations, but don’t hang out in the classroom everyday getting in the way.
Make it easy for other parents.
If your child is physically OK being exposed to wheat, dairy and eggs (as long as he doesn’t eat them) don’t ask other parents to avoid sending cupcakes for their children’s birthdays. Just make sure you send an alternative for your child.
Have an allergy/health plan.
Your child’s plan needs to be individualized. Not all allergies are the same, so not all plans will be the same. That’s why everything needs to be spelled out and agreed upon in advance.
If you and your doctor agree that your child needs to be given the EpiPen if he eats something with his allergen in it—even if he’s not exhibiting any symptoms yet—put that in your plan. Make sure it’s in writing, and talk about it with the people who need to know what to do; make sure they understand.
FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), the premier organization for education on dealing with food allergies, recently revised its recommended school food allergy and anaphylaxis emergency care plan. Many schools either use FARE’s format for their own students or base their forms on it.
Meet with key players.
Before school starts, meet with the people who will be helping your child avoid his allergens and responding in the event of allergen exposure or reaction.
This meeting should definitely include your child’s teacher. Other helpful people may include the school principal, other administrative staff, the school nurse, cafeteria staff and janitorial staff.
Go over the school’s food allergy policies and procedures.
Make sure you are comfortable with these policies and procedures, as well as accommodations your school is willing to make for your child.
Medical policies and procedures: Who is trained to use the EpiPen? How many EpiPens should you provide and where they will be stored? Know the step-by-step procedure in administering the EpiPen.
Classroom food: Which foods are allowed for snacks and parties? Review the parent letter detailing allowed foods.
Lunchroom: Are your child’s allergens allowed in the cafeteria? Is there an allergen-free table? Are tables washed in between lunch periods?
Substitute teachers: Your child’s health plans should be included in the substitute’s folder of information.
Field Trips: Know which teacher or staff member carries the EpiPen and is a trained to administer it. Make sure your child’s lunch will be stored in a safe place away from his allergens.
Sports, clubs and after-school activities: Your child may have to carry his EpiPen with him. Alert supervisors and make sure they know how to administer the EpiPen.
Share this information with a smile on your face, and you and your child can have a happy and safe school year!
Even if you don’t have a child with food allergies, every parent should be aware. Here are some tips:
1. Follow the school's allergy policy. Some classrooms or cafeterias restrict foods based on food allergies.
2. If you are a room parent, or in charge of providing food for a class party, talk to the allergy parents. Allergy parents can give suggestions of treats that are safe for the whole class, or in many cases, they will be happy to provide the snacks themselves. Recruit them!
3. If you’re sending a birthday treat to school that isn’t safe for all the kids, give the allergy parent a heads-up. The parent can then provide a special treat for her child, too.