How to handle your child’s allergies

By Drum Digital
26 June 2014

Trying to ensure the most normal life possible for your severely allergic schoolgoing child can be difficult. Our experts give advice.

It wasn’t poor conduct that forced Chuma Ngobozana* of Cape Town to take her five-year-old son, Fezile*, out of school recently. Neither were bullies the cause of the problem. No, it was the boy’s severe nut allergy that persuaded the concerned mom to homeschool him instead. Because if Fezile were to take just one bite of a friend’s peanut butter sandwich at school, he could die.

What do you do if your child has severe allergies? Is taking a child out of school so you can personally keep a close eye on them the only alternative? Or are there other options? We found out how parents of children with allergies can ensure their kids live as normally and safely as possible.

What the law says

According to legislation governing the administration of medication it’s illegal to give children medicine at school. That’s why teachers often are reluctant to give learners medicine – they could be held liable if anything goes wrong, explains Sherylle Dass, a lawyer based at the Equal Education Law Centre.

What if an allergy flares up at school?

If your child has serious allergies, it’s important to plan, says Brigitte Taim, a spokesperson for the health care group Pharma Dynamics. Make sure your child’s class teacher and all their other teachers know about their allergies. Ensure your child’s teachers have emergency numbers on hand and – if the principal agrees – have access to the child’s medicine.

Can I insist the school administers my child’s medicine?

Parents should find out about the school’s allergy policy before enrolling their child, Sherylle suggests. Draw up an agreement with the school which allows the teacher to administer medication to your child in an emergency. Get the prescription and arrange for a legal expert to draw up the agreement to protect the interests of both parties. If school staff refuse to administer the medication, you can get a court order, Sherylle says.

How are allergies treated?

The most common treatment is an injection in the thigh, Brigitte says. It usually contains adrenaline, which stabilises the child’s condition. An ambulance has to be called regardless. For less serious allergies an antihistamine tablet which relieves the symptoms can be taken. Skin allergies can be treated with ointment or cream.

How do I prepare my child for emergencies?

Explain the seriousness of the situation to children and tell them who to approach if they start to feel ill. Explain which symptoms to watch out for so it’s immediately obvious to the child that he or she is having an allergic reaction. Let your child wear a medical bracelet that clearly indicates their name, allergy and a contact number. Teach the child to always keep their medicine in the same place in their school bag or desk so it’s easily accessible. If they’re old enough, children can be taught by their doctor to inject themselves. Ask your doctor when it would be appropriate for your child – the age varies from child to child.

* Not their real names

Most common allergies

  • Nuts
  • Dairy
  • Grain
  • Soy
  • Shellfish
  • Bee stings

What are the symptoms?

Parents should take note of how their children react to food and their environment, Brigitte says. If they suspect trouble, the child should be taken immediately to a doctor for an allergy test.

  • The earliest symptom is usually itchy eyes.
  • Then the throat often closes and the child struggles to breathe.
  • Vomiting and stomach cramps can occur.
  • Other symptoms include skin irritations and fainting.

- Mieke Vlok

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