Allergies and the Special Ed Classroom

In recent years we’ve learned a great deal more about allergies and the effects they can have on student learning. Absenteeism, hospitalizations for anaphylaxis and medication dispensing in the classroom are just some of the factors that are impacting student learning and the management of health issues for students in special education classrooms.

boy nose tissueWe don’t usually think of children suffering from allergies or asthma as children with special needs, but they certainly are. Children with these conditions are probably the most frequently encountered category of special needs, and statistics support the notion that allergies are on the rise. According to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. Food allergies result in more than 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children under the age of 18.

The most common allergy symptoms are:

  • Runny nose and sneezing
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Hives on skin
  • Asthma-like reactions

The category of allergy receiving the most attention these days is food allergies. About 3 million children experience adverse reactions to something they eat every year in the United States. The most common food allergies are to:

  • Peanuts and other nuts
  • Seafood or shellfish
  • Milk and prepared foods containing milk products
  • Eggs
  • Soy, wheat and other grains like buckwheat

The symptoms of the allergic response vary as listed above. Students with allergies must:

  • Avoid the allergen
  • Carry medication called an EpiPen® (looks like a pen) containing injectable epinephrine
  • Wear an updated alert bracelet
  • Visit the school nurse for medication or to assess any new reactions
  • Be isolated from potential allergens during lunch to avoid reactions
  • Have alternative snacks on hand for classroom celebrations

Other allergens in special education classrooms may be related to paints, chalk and other art supplies. There are, of course, school supplies that are designed to be allergen free. Some schools develop policies to help monitor different allergens for those children with food allergies and subsequently provide protection from anaphylaxis. Large school districts are studying the possibility of establishing schools where students with allergies can be monitored and treated.

An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. When a person is exposed to an allergen such as peanuts, the person’s immune system becomes sensitive to the substance. When the person eats peanuts again, a reaction may occur. Anaphylaxis develops quickly, it is severe and it involves the entire body. The body releases histamines that cause airways to close which leads to a shortness of breath and other symptoms.

Symptoms develop within seconds and may include:

  • Gasping breathing sounds (wheezing) with chest discomfort, sometimes a cough
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing, the feeling of chest tightening
  • Light-headedness
  • Hives
  • Severe itching

Anaphylaxis is a life threatening emergency condition that requires immediate medical attention. Call 911 right away.

In the beginning of the year, if you are sending out informational materials, you might want to send a survey for health care that parents can answer to provide more detail about any allergies their child might have. Be sure you have a prescribed EpiPen® available for all of your allergic children. Make sure they are filled and current. There is an expiration date on the package, and you may want to make a spreadsheet that lists those students and expiration dates close at hand so you can have them refilled as necessary. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (that’s what I hear).

If you have any stories about allergies and your students let me know. I’d be happy to share them with our readers.


Grant Name: Let’s ALL Play Partnership

Funded By: National Inclusion Project

Description:  Let’s ALL Play brings an inclusive recreational experience to children with disabilities. As a national leader in the movement toward full inclusion, the National Inclusion Project is proud to partner with community organizations that are seeking to programmatically open doors for ALL children to learn, live, and play together. Through training, consulting, and funding, the Project will meet organizations where they are and help them to implement quality programs that impact children and families in their communities.

Program Areas: Disabilities

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline:  7/31/2015

Average Amount:  $10,000.00

Address: 104 T.W. Alexander Dr, Bldg 1, PO Box 110104 RTP, NC 27709

Email: aronhall@inclusionprojects.org

Website: National Inclusion Project

Availability:  All States

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