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First allergic reaction at school

Posted on September 7th, 2010 by Alison Read 30 Comments - Add Your Own »

schoolkids1Well, it happened. My daughter had an allergic reaction on her 6th day of 1st grade. She never had a reaction when she was in kindergarten at the same school, and at first I couldn’t even figure out what had happened. But the mystery has been solved and I am left wondering how far I should go to protect my daughter.

Here’s what happened:

The school called me to tell me that my daughter was coughing and couldn’t stop, that she had left class and was in the office. They gave her water, but that didn’t help. I wasn’t thinking food allergy at all. I was thinking that she had a tickle in her throat, or maybe allergies to pollen. I didn’t react like it was an emergency. I headed for the school.

When I reached the school, her coughing had gotten worse and she couldn’t stop. Her breathing was affected, but she told me that she hadn’t eaten any food yet that day (it was still early). I was still trying to figure out what could have happened and asked her a bunch of questions as I drove her home. She was still coughing uncontrollably. At home I gave her Benadryl and waited. Luckily, her coughing gradually subsided and her breathing was better.

Later that day I spoke to the teacher and told her that I couldn’t figure out what happened to my daughter but that it seemed like an allergic reaction. The teacher’s eyes got wide and she said, “Ask her if she was playing with Julia. She had a big glob of peanut butter on her shirt and I sent her to the bathroom to wash it off.”

Now, my daughter has never had peanuts in her life, nor has she had a reaction to peanuts. She tested positive for peanuts on the allergy test along with other nuts, so we are very careful, but it has never been tested in real life. Until now.

I asked her if she had played with Julia. No, she said. I asked her again if she played with Julia. No, she said again. Hmmm… I asked her if she touched her shirt by any chance? Yes! Why?? “Because her shirt was fuzzy and she said I could feel it if I wanted.” Bingo! Later I confirmed that the girl in her class had eaten some of her peanut butter sandwich at recess. My daughter touched the girls’s shirt right after recess and then her reaction started. Most likely my daughter put her fingers in her mouth as she sometimes does when she is doing her work.

According to the Food Allergy Action Plan given to me and to the school by our doctor, her coughing was a reaction that warranted the use of an epinephrine injection (Epi-Pen) because her throat and lungs were being affected, and the reaction can suddenly get more severe, leading to anaphylaxis. Because I didn’t think there was food involved, I was so slow to react. I’m not sure if I am in denial or just plain dumb, but this has been a real wake up call for me. I have a whole new perspective on the benefits of having a school be nut-free, but I am not sure I am ready to lead that fight, or even if I feel it is necessary, but it sure would be nice.

I know there are parents out there who feel that making a nut-free school puts a burden on them as parents of the non-nut-free kids. I know there are lots of children with issues surrounding food, but honestly, when you think about the fact that a child could die from touching a kid’s shirt, doesn’t it put things in perspective?

I don’t really know where I’m going with this post, but I hope to at least raise some awareness about the dangers that kids with food allergies face. If you know your child’s friend has a life-threatening food allergy, talk to your child about it and suggest that he/she doesn’t bring that food item to school. Just today, one of my daughter’s friends told her dad to pack her a salami sandwich instead of peanut butter so that she could sit near my daughter at lunch. Kids are amazingly receptive and thoughtful when it comes down to it.  The grown-ups sometimes are the ones who need the convincing!

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  1. I’m so glad your daughter is OK! My son has dairy and egg allergies, and got off the schoolbus yesterday with half of his face all red and blotchy. He was rubbing his eye and complained of being itchy. We still don’t know what he touched, or how. I don’t know if it started just on the bus, or in the classroom. I feel for what you went through.

    Even though we don’t have peanut allergies to deal with, I no longer send him to school with peanut products because I don’t want to cause reactions with anyone who might be allergic. I want him to be with his friends and not worry if he washed his hands well enough after eating a snack with nuts. If he did not have his own allergies, I am certain I would not be as aware of this issue.

    Best of luck to you and your family!

  2. I’m so sorry to hear that she reacted! How’s she feeling about school – is she worried about reacting again?

    For what it’s worth, I would have reacted the same way. If I didn’t see hives or if Bella wasn’t sick to her stomach i would have assumed environmental allergies as well. I wouldn’t have immediately grabbed for an epi pen.

    A nut free school would be great, but I don’t see it happening in our district. I count small victories like nut free tables and teachers that work with me on keeping B reaction free during the year. But it never ends. And you’re absolutely right about other kids – they really make an effort when they know their classmate might get hurt or sick.

    Big hugs to you – will i see you next month at BHFood? Let’s try to grab a drink (or a meal) together 🙂

  3. I know some kids that can’t take anything with peanuts to school because they have a child in their class with a peanut allergy. I think if I were you, I would suggest the same type of rule for your daughters class, however, you can’t trust others to follow the rules. I’m just thankful she is fine and I wish you great success in getting something changed should you decide to try!

  4. When my son had his one (and so far only) peanut reaction, I didn’t realize what was going on either. His was not at school, but we got the big lecture from the allergist afterwards because we didn’t EpiPen him. We didn’t know.

    Glad your daughter is OK.

    My son’s school is not peanut-free, and we’re starting to have discussions (with him) about it. He’s also a first-grader and wants to sit with friends at lunch, etc. He was asking me if it was OK to sit next to someone who has peanut butter. Urrgh. Your post reminds me that I need to have a conversation with the school nurse again!

  5. Thank you for sharing this and I’m so glad that your daughter is ok. This just reminds us that no matter how much we prepare and try to prevent things, accidents do happen. While I haven’t made up my mind about a nut free school I do believe that there should be nut free classrooms, especially for younger children. Our kids are handling all the same books and supplies as the other kids and as much I hate it and try to break the habit, my 5 year old still puts her fingers in her mouth. Unfortunately it’s something that young children do.

  6. First, thank goodness she is okay. My peanut allergic son started 1st grade today. This is such a good reminder to me. I need to tell him to be careful touching others. Scary, stuff! I realized I would have reacted the same way as you- she didn’t eat anything so the cough isn’t the allergy. My son has asthma so I am sure I would just chalk it up to that. Thank you for posting this (all of it- including your feelings). Again, I am glad she is okay.

  7. OK I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the teacher messed up. Knowing your child has peanut allergies (or any food allergies for that matter)and knowing that Julia had a glob of peanut butter on her shirt, the teacher should have sent Julia to the nurse to get a new shirt. Then they should bag the shirt and keep it in the office, out of the class for Julia’s parents to pick up. That was a near fatal oversight on the teacher’s part. WTH?!

    I am so glad your daughter is doing fine after that. It sure is scary to know there’s something medically wrong but not know the source to medically treat it! Still if the health care plan stated Epipen, they should have done so. Looks like you’ll need to march into the school and revisit the plan!

  8. So glad that your daughter is OK and that you figured it out. A SHIRT!!! That is amazing and so scary. I would have reacted the same way you did. In the spring my son said his tummy hurt and then he threw up. I had no idea he even ate anything until a few minutes later when the sneezing started. I just thought he had a stomach bug. I should have used the Epi but I didn’t know it was food related. Luckily he got most of it out and Benadryl took care of the rest.
    Food allergy are the worst!! I hope she’s doing well now and that she isn’t frightened by what happened.

  9. I’m so glad your girl is okay! This is just the kind of thing I’ve been trying to tell people about, although luckily it has not happened to us yet. I don’t know if I would have jumped to the EpiPen, either. But now I’m going to keep your story in mind in the future, and the fact that the allergist told us it was better to give her the shot if we even suspected though weren’t 100% sure she was having a reaction.

    My peanut-allergic daughter (3 years old) just started in a pre-school that is not nut-free, although her room is nut free. I’ve just pointed out to her teachers that the non-nut-free classes use the same playground equipment and all-purpose rooms. Peanut butter is sticky, and kids don’t wash their hands (or shirts) when they are eating it. I’m really worried about it, and have suggested making sure that all kids wash their hands after lunch to lessen the chance of contaimination of shared equipment. It’s scary stuff!

  10. I just got back from the pediatrician for my daughter’s 6 year checkup and relayed all that has happened — the egg challenge in the doctor’s office, and her latest reactions. She stated to me very strongly that I need to use the Epi-Pen and get over my fear of doing it, or whatever is holding me back. She’s right — I have never given the Epi and I have some mind block about it. Should I try it on myself? My husband? Poking it into an orange is just not the same thing.

    Also, she said she is a little worried that I was able to control an anaphylactic reaction with Benadryl — that I may have a false sense of security. She thinks we have been very lucky, but she has seen these things “go the other way.” She is right on all counts.

    Anyone have suggestions on getting over my Epi-fear?

  11. We too were able to control my son’s anaphylaxis with a dose of Zyrtec, after he vomited. Later I got the lecture of a lifetime from the allergist and cried all the way home. The doctor’s bedside manner is a bit lacking, shall we say. But he made his point. No doctor will ever chastise you for giving an EpiPen.

    (Not that any of us wants our child to go through that. I dread the day… my son would freak out for months after!) When oh when will we have a cure???

    As an aside, once my son’s young daycare teacher told me that she didn’t think she could give an EpiPen! Yikes! I told her that she absolutely could, and that faced with a sick baby wheezing away on her lap, she would do it in a heartbeat to save that child’s life. I hope I changed her attitude. (I probably should have reported her to the director for more training, but I didn’t.)

    Don’t be scared, be strong. It’s your job as a mom to do this. And anyway, you don’t have a choice.

  12. my daycare is nut-free – and they advocate “soy-nut-butter” a peanut-free alternative to peanut butter available at Walmart, etc, that tastes just like the real thing. Perhaps you can suggest you non nut-free schools use this instead? I can’t tell the difference. It might be a better alternative to allow your kids to sit near their friends at lunch and still have their “peanut butter” sandwhiches.

  13. I am so sorry to hear about your daughter’s experience. I know that must have been really scary for you as her symptoms progressed. Glad to hear you all figured it out and now at least you can be prepared.

  14. Oh my! How scary this must have been for you and your daughter! You have raised awareness by writing this post. I will definitely pass this information along to my daughter whose son has food allergies. I have many, but luckily they are not life threatening.

    Glad to hear your daughter is safe and that you now have the means to protect her.

  15. We don’t have peanut allergies in my house, but your story has confirmed my position of not sending peanut products with my kids to school.
    Just this week, when meeting with the teachers, parents in two different classes asked if there were any children with peanut allergies in the classroom. The teachers both responded “yes, but didn’t think they were severe allergies.” As such, they don’t restrict peanut products from being in the classroom. One teacher said she is careful to have a peanut-free zone, but if I was the parent of a child with a peanut allergy I think I would have spoken up. Of course, the school isn’t going to ban the peanuts, but they could say it would be appreciated if parents kept the peanuts at home to reduce the risk.
    I know there were several parents who were concerned about triggering an allergic reaction in other students. It struck me as odd that parents who don’t deal with the peanut allergy seemed more concerned than the teachers or the parents with peanut allergies. I personally am reserving our peanut butter for snacks after school.

  16. Heather,
    I wish that all parents were like you! Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

  17. My daughter attends a small Waldorf school in Washington and for the last 2 years we had a wonderful family at the school who had a daughter in the same class as my daugher. This child has a severe peanut allergy and because our school is so small we were able to make the grades classes peanut free and specifically my daughters classroom a peanut free zone. I did a ton of research on this with the school districts in the area and it was amazing to learn about some of the legal issues around making a school legally “peanut free”.

    I was mostly awed by the open attitudes and wonderful embracing of this issue at the school. All of the families really stepped up and took anything with peanuts out of the school. The student isn’t with our school this year but does visit and we get emails when she will be attending so that we are prepared. It was a wonderful and eye opening experience to share with others in our community. The children were incredible and were so very cautious about their actions around this issue.

    I hope for a positive solution for you and your family and am glad that she is ok!

    I found your site when researching GF candy options as our family is GF and Dairy intolerant.

    Thank you for the great site!

  18. Maria,
    Thanks for your insight. My daughter attends a fairly big public school, with some diversity with regards to income and ethnicity (not much, but definitely present.) I have written a letter to the principal offering to create a Food Allergy Awareness Program at the school. We’ll see what happens…

  19. So glad she is okay. What a scary day, and a very thought provoking post. Can you do a follow up post describing your thoughts on whether an Epi should be used when Benadryl did the trick? I’m a little confused about that part, and I see that several other commenters mentioned that their allergists were mad at them for not using an Epi in similar situations. I agree that my allergist’s protocol would specify Epi for reactions affecting breathing, but I think that if I had given Benadryl and it worked that I would assume it at that point to be overkill to use the Epipen. Is that not right? I guess my question is: Is there some kind of lasting harm of not having given an Epi in this case?

    Also, I totally can relate to your not immediately realizing that she was having an allergic reaction, because when my daughter failed her egg challenge at the doctor’s office, it was a slow developing reaction, and my first thought was that maybe she was coincidentally developing cold symptoms at the very moment that we were there. ha! Talk about denial, we were at a doctor’s office testing for reactions, for cryin’ out loud! I think our brains must just search for other possible reasons before they will admit it’s an allergic reaction.

  20. Kate,
    Check out Tracy’s comment — it is a good explanation of what you are asking about the Benadryl and Epi. I have been confused by it also, but realize that Benadryl is not the go-to med.

  21. I was looking up info about “peanut free schools” because there was an incident at my daughter’s school with a younger student whose allergy was unfortunately not disclosed, and I came across your blog.

    The reactionary response by the principal was to ban peanuts. So, on a Friday the incident occurred then on Monday notices were sent out, officially making us “a peanut free school”. This has enraged a lot of parents because there has been no discussion, no open table and it falls in the current trend of the new principal’s loads of new rules and changes. No one was prepared and many were disappointed. Granted, everyone is understanding. As am I but, feel this was hasty and could have used some discussion.

    My daughter is severely lactose intolerant and primarily vegetarian. Nut butters are a mainstay for protein and always a win for lunch. She’s so fickle, and cheese is not an option and she never eats the meat sandwiches so, i don’t even try. I grew up with severe gluten and dairy allergies and my mom made strides to pack my lunch and keep me aware.

    I wrote a letter to the school and spoke to the school gov’t board about reframing this policy to help bring awareness and support to the rather than enforcing yet another new rule.

    So far, of the 180 students (it’s a charter school) only one child has a severe nut allergy. I think, the best policy may be individual classroom awareness. Nut free tables, perhaps?

    I know, for the sake of the child, a perfect nut-free environment would be ideal but, I really feel this matter relies heavily on parental instruction, awareness and guidance as well as working with the teachers closely. And this was clearly not the case.

    Also, the greater population of the school are lower income families where staples like peanut butter are affordable and nutritious. Something not being taken into account.

    I was hoping to receive some guidance or comments on how best to approach this matter when meeting with the principal. I want this child to be safe but, there are many more factors in play that need to be worked out.

    Looking forward to thoughts and comments.

  22. Al.,
    I agree with you that the principal’s reaction sounds a bit reactionary. I think schools really need to get their policies straight BEFORE a reaction happens. At this point, I believe that education and awareness are the key and that is what I am working toward at our school. Of course, a nut free school would be great for my daughter… but you still are going to encounter the same people on the playground, at playdates, etc. I hope that once people understand the situation better, they will make the choice to protect my daughter. Wish me luck!

  23. Hi – I’m a mom of three kids and amongst the five people in our family we handle all of the top eight allergens and then some. I’ve used the EPI three times on my kids and can’t not express enough how much my allergist put my mind at ease about using it. You CANNOT hurt your child be administering it. The epinephrine (adrenalyn), contained in it, is a substance your body creates itself. It wears off in a short period of time. As long as you have the proper junior vs. adult dose – your child cannot be harmed by it. Even with that, I’ve read that some people need multiple doses to bring a reaction under control.

    I too was read the riot act by the allergist after hesitating to administer after an accidental egg exposure. He was very clear that the Benadryl (or I saw another post about Zyrtex) did NOTHING to ward off anaphylaxis – it was just that the reaction had subsided. Just plain lucky. Much research aftewards, I now know how true that is. NEVER hesitate – it is life or death. That first 1/2 window is so critical. The fatality rate after the 1/2 hours window is too high to chance it.

    Also, I was amazed at how comfortable I was after my first EPI administration – it was a wave of relief – could I do it? could I keep my cool? Believe me, when it’s your kids life at risk – you find the strength.

    Be strong – and good luck!

  24. Tracy,
    Thank you so much for this explanation! And for the personal experience and encouragement!

  25. I’m getting long winded and I apologize, but sometimes the signs of anaphylaxis are not completely visible. So even if you think you’ve curbed it by Benadryl or something else – the cardiovascular system could still be under attack. If in doubt – always EPI!

  26. Hey Alison,

    Check out this article. I think it is quite timely and is further fuel to the fire, to push us into making our school(s) improve awareness of what kids (and parents of kids) with food allergies face.

  27. Thanks Yvonne,
    It’s unbelievable that kids would be bullied for food allergies. It goes back to raising awareness and educating people about the seriousness of it!

  28. Oh my, I’m glad that your daughter is okay, but wow, what a wake-up call. It’s scary! I hope that you can work with her school to implement some ways to help protect her (and give you peace of mind!)

  29. This is my first time reading your blog. I have a 5 year daughter who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and fish. I agree with another writer who thinks the teacher should have handled Julia’s shirt differently. The outcome of this story could be so much worse, Thanks goodness you little one is okay. (I will probably Home educate my child because of her allergies. I live in a city where this would be easy to do.)


  30. Julia,
    I have no desire to home school my child! 🙂 It would obviously keep a child safe, and I applaud anyone who has the patience for it. Since raising awareness about food allergies at our school, the kids and teachers are very careful around my daughter, all in a loving and caring way. It’s so nice to see!