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Back to School: Food Allergy Concerns

CT State Department of Education school health consultant Stephanie Knutson talks about how to create a safe environment for students with food allergies.

Students already have lots to worry about as they head back to school. But homework, quizzes and locker combination problems pale in comparison to the possibility of having an allergic reaction for the estimated 4 to 6 percent of school children in the U.S. who have a food allergy.

However, CT State Department of Education school health consultant Stephanie Knutson said that there are steps families and schools can take to create a safe school environment for those students.

Most importantly, Knutson said that parents should take their child to a pediatrician and receive an order allowing school staff to administer life-saving medication, like an EpiPen, to their child.

EpiPens, containing epinephrine, are used to treat those suffering from anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can make it difficult to breathe, amongst other serious symptoms.

She said that parents should communicate with the school nurse and administration to ensure that proper medication and a plan is in place so that their child is safe.

"Make sure that the procedures are established," she said. "It's the behind-the-scenes planning that is really essential. That way students can be in the classroom, ready to learn."

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Schools across Connecticut are also required to have an allergy management plan in place, Knutson said. While some districts may opt to have an allergen-free table in the cafeteria as opposed to an entirely allergen-free school, she said that each school district should have the plan posted for parents to read.

And while the items kids are allergic to have diversified, running the gamut from peanuts to milk, eggs, seafood and tree nuts, Knutson said that communities seem to be more aware of the need to have safe school environments for all students.

"I think people are becoming more accustomed to hearing about allergy environments," she said. "There is an increased awareness."

Visit the State Department of Education's website for a complete look at the department's guidelines for allergy management in schools.

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