A Teacher's Guide to Allergies and Anaphylaxis
An allergy is an abnormal response to a "normal"
substance. The allergic person has an altered immune response to substances
which would normally not be harmful. Symptoms may vary from person
to person, both in range and severity. Not all reactions are immediate.
Symptoms can occur up to 72 hours or more after exposure to the allergen,
and can last for several days once they occur. A reaction does not
necessarily occur with the first exposure to the allergen: Substances
which have not previously caused a problem can cause symptoms at any
a publication of the now defunct Allergy/Asthma Association
of Alberta. It was prepared in cooperation with the Alberta
Children's Hospital, Calgary and funded by the Wild Rose Foundation,
an Alberta Government Lottery funded Foundation
What Is Allergy?
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe allergic
response that produces breathing difficulties, collapse and possible
death. It is described later in this pamphlet.
What Causes Allergic Reactions?
Substances ("allergens") that cause allergies can
vary from child to child. Some potential allergens to be aware of
in the classroom are:
- scented markers, stickers
- chalk dust
- animals of any kind
- foods - any food can pose a risk
- molds, mildew
- paint fumes
Signs and Symptoms
Some signs of a child with allergies in the classroom
- constant runny nose
- excessive throat clearing
- puffy eyes
- dark circles under eyes
- chronic cough
- varied attention span
- disruptive behaviour
- aches and pains
- abdominal cramps
- eczema, skin rashes
- sleepiness or drowsiness
Allergies are controlled by a doctor through an
individually tailored routine of medications, dietary manipulations
and environmental control.
Dealing with the Child with Allergies
The child with allergies may have symptoms that
directly affect his or her performance in school. Allergic symptoms
can be controlled with careful monitoring by the parents and the
teacher. Here are some suggestions to help you in the classroom:
- Discuss each child's condition fully with
the parents prior to school starting.
- Inform the parents beforehand of activities
involving food or animals. The parents may wish to give the child
medication or substitute foods to make it possible for the child
- Notify the parents of behaviour changes
you notice, or of an increase in any of the symptoms mentioned
- Discourage the child from trading food with
friends. If you see this happening, stop the child and inform
- BELIEVE THE CHILD. The child will know if
she or he is starting to react to something.
- Keep a picture of the child, a list of his/her
allergies and usual reactions in an easily accessible place in
the classroom. If you have a substitute teacher taking your class,
this information must be readily available to that teacher.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe allergic response
that produces breathing difficulties, collapse and possible death.
Symptoms usually occur within several minutes following contact with
the allergen and proceed rapidly. Anaphylactic reactions tend to be
faster and more severe with each exposure to the allergen.
What Causes Anaphylactic Reactions?
Anaphylactic reactions are usually caused by:
- Foods: Some common foods that may cause
reactions are peanuts, shellfish, nuts, eggs, fish. Reactions
can be caused by any food such as milk, beef, pork, soya, potato
or wheat products.
- Stinging insects
- Drugs: Common drugs that cause reactions
are penicillin and ASA
Signs and Symptoms
Some initial signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis
Symptoms of anaphylaxis rapidly progress to:
- tingling lips and mouth
- flushing of face, body
- itchy eyes, nose, face
- eyes and face swelling
- weakness and dizziness
- throat swelling closed
- inability to breath
- loss of consciousness
Children with life-threatening anaphylactic
reactions may require medication if a reaction occurs at school.
You will NOT have time to wait for the parent or for the ambulance.
The child may be unable to self-administer the medication
due to the severity of the symptoms.
You may be required to give the child adrenalin through
an EPIPEN®, which is a pre-packaged automatic injector
Treatment of Anaphylaxis
In addition to observing the cautions and procedures
recommended for children with allergies, remember that anaphylactic
reactions must be treated promptly with medications that stop
the reaction from progressing.
- ALL school personnel should be aware of
this child and the things that cause his or her reactions.
- The child's parents must instruct all personnel
who may be involved with this child in the use of the EPIPEN (see
- The Epipen should be kept in a safe, easily
accessible place in the school, preferably in a waist pack that
the child carries at all times.
- If a reaction occurs, administer the adrenalin
by using the Epipen then telephone 911. Ask for an ambulance.
Mention that you have a child who has suffered an anaphylactic
reaction, and that you have administered adrenalin. The child
must have further medical treatment if he or she has used the
- Adrenalin will cause some tremor and increased
heart rate, but does not have major adverse reaction. PLAY
IT SAFE: ADMINISTER THE ADRENALIN. The child will not be harmed
by the adrenalin if it was not a genuine allergic reaction.
- The child may require antihistamines for
several days following a reaction. These medications sometimes
cause drowsiness and poor attention span.
- Children who require an Epipen may not be
able to give it to themselves or wait for an ambulance.
Some General Suggestions
The allergic child affects you and the parents.
Since the parents are sending their child to a place where they lose
some control over the child's environment or what the child eats,
they will be concerned about the potential health risk. You will be
dealing with a child who may be disruptive and may need medication
and close monitoring.
Parents will appreciate your recognition of
the individual nature of this condition and its medical requirements.
You must let them feel that their instructions are being adhered
to explicitly. You cannot be responsible for ensuring that the child
never eats something he or she should not eat, or never has an allergic
reaction at school. The parents must count on your help to lessen
the possibility of an allergic reaction, and to deal with a reaction
if it occurs.
You can be instrumental in helping the allergic
child to feel accepted. The allergic child knows he or she is different
from other children, in having to do things or eat things that are
different from others. The child's self-esteem may be fragile. If
you can make it possible for this child to participate in activities
in as normal a manner as possible, then the child will not feel
"different". This will go a long way to strengthening the child's
positive emotional growth at school.
- Allergies are an abnormal response to a
normal substance. Allergic responses are varied and unique to
- Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic response.
It can be life-threatening.
- Children with allergies/anaphylaxis require
- A close working relationship with the parents
is essential to an informed, well-managed, and safe classroom
Additional Sources of
Allergy/Asthma Information Association
National Office: Box 100,
Toronto, Ontario M9W 5K9
Phone (416) 679-9521 or 1-800-611-7011
Fax: (416) 679-9524
Allergy Network www.calgaryallergy.ca
of Use: The information
on this site does not constitute medical advice and is for your
general information only. We cannot be held responsible for anything
you could possibly do or say because of information on this site.
Consult your family physician or allergist for specific questions