Managing Chronic Health Needs in Child Care and Schools—Allergies: An Overview

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What are allergies?

  • Allergy is the term that is used to describe the body's overreaction to something that it views as foreign or different.

  • The body reacts by releasing histamine and other substances that cause allergic symptoms.

  • There are many different types of allergic reactions; some are minor and annoying, but some are serious and life threatening.

  • One form of a serious allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis.

  • Some other examples of allergic reactions are

    • Stuffy nose

    • Runny nose

    • Itchy, watery eyes

    • Hives (urticaria)

    • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

    • Contact dermatitis

    • Wheezing

    • Itching of roof of mouth

    • Swelling of throat or mouth

    • Swelling of the skin (angioedema)

    • Stomach cramps

  • A child can be allergic to many things. Some children have a tendency toward allergies and may have many of the symptoms. The things that people are allergic to are called allergens.

  • Some common things that children are allergic to include

    • Foods, especially peanuts, tree nuts, soy, milk, wheat, eggs, fish, and shellfish

    • Pollen

    • Mold or mildew

    • Dust mites

    • Animal dander, especially from cats and dogs

    • Inhaled scents (Perfume, incense, and smoke are irritants that cause symptoms, but not allergens.)

    • Medications

    • Topicals (things that are placed on the skin such as creams or lotions)

    • Insect stings or droppings

    • Latex

How common is it?

Allergies are very common. In a national study of children with special health care needs, 53% had allergies of some type.

What adaptations may be needed?

Dietary considerations

  • See Anaphylaxis for more information about dietary adaptations for allergic conditions.

  • Some children will have mild allergies to food and do not require strict controls.

Physical environment

  • Include teaching about allergies in the educational curriculum. Make a game of allergy symptoms and body parts (eg, watery eyes, stuffy nose, skin rash). Learning about allergies can also be an opportunity to see the ways that our bodies interact with the world (eg, touching, smelling, tasting).

  • Post lists of the children's allergies in a place that staff can see but the public and other children cannot.

  • Always consider using hypoallergenic products such as soaps and cleaning products.

  • Change air filters frequently to cut down on airborne allergens.

  • Ask parents/guardians to be specific about their child's allergy. People tend to use the term loosely. Find out which allergies are serious and which cause minor problems.

  • Allergies can change over time. Ask parents/guardians to keep their child's Care Plan updated with respect to allergies.

Source: Managing Chronic Health Needs in Child Care and Schools: A Quick Reference Guide.

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The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.