Writing Other Parents About Your Child's Food Allergy

You need to inform parents and not just the school

Woman writing letter on couch at home

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If your child has just been diagnosed with severe food allergies, you're likely to be concerned about foods other children may bring into the classroom, potentially risking an allergic reaction if the foods are shared.

Many schools have policies regarding allergies, especially tree nut and peanut allergies. While a great many parents will pay attention to those rules, others may be less aware of the impact of food allergies if their child doesn't have one. As such, they may not think twice about how dangerous a little peanut butter can be if their child decides to share half of a PB&J sandwich with an allergic classmate. Even fewer have even a vague notion about the risks of cross-contamination of food.

According to statistics from the American College of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology (ACAAI) over six million American kids have a food allergy, most predominately to peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat.

Symptoms and Risks

Some food allergies in children can last a lifetime, such as those to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Others, like milk, egg, soy, wheat allergies, occur mostly during childhood and may gradually wane over time. Whatever the cause, a food allergy in children may result in symptoms ranging from mild to severe, including:

  • Skin rashes or hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sneezing, coughing, a runny nose, or itchy eyes
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea and vomiting

In a rare subset of individuals, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis may occur, causing shortness of breath, wheezing, hives, rapid heart rate, dizziness, lightheadedness, and swelling of the face, hands, throat, or tongue. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can sometimes lead to shock, coma, and respiratory or cardiac failure, and death.

While rare, the risk of fatal food anaphylaxis in children 19 and under is nearly twice that of the general population, according to research from Imperial College London.

Informing Parents

With these statistics in mind, you should not hesitate to reach out to fellow parents if your child is at risk of a serious allergic response. It is not enough to let the school know and leave it at that.

Ultimately, the parents need to pull their own children aside and let them know not to share any food with your child. By helping both parents and schoolmates understand the dire consequence of a food allergy, you will less likely be faced with an urgent call from school.

Writing and sending a letter—as opposed to an email which may not be opened—is the best way to do so. Here is a letter template that you can customize based on your child's allergies:

Dear Parents,

My (son/daughter) ________ is a classmate of your child and has a severe allergy to _______. I wanted to tell you a little about food allergies to ensure a safe and healthy school year.

Food allergies affect about 6% to 8% of children in the United States. Allergic reactions can be life-threatening, and in rare cases deadly. While emergency treatment is available for allergic reactions, there is no cure yet. The only treatment for food allergies is strict avoidance of allergens. Sometimes a small amount of allergen can cause a reaction.

My child is aware that it is (his/her) responsibility to keep (himself/herself) safe by reading labels and by not accepting food that might contain allergens. However, because children eat in such close proximity at school, the chance of an inadvertent reaction is much higher in the school setting than elsewhere.

I would ask that if you're bringing in food for a party or special event that might not be allergen-free, that you please let me know in advance so that I can provide an alternative safe option for my child.

(In particular, because homemade baked goods are so likely to contain traces of allergens from previous baking, they're not safe options for my child even if they don't contain ingredients with ________.)

I would also ask that you let your child know a little about food allergies, ask them not to share food with my (son/daughter), and let them know that other than eating allergenic food, people with allergies can do everything anyone else can.

Finally, if your child eats foods containing _________ for breakfast, please ask them to wash their hands and brush their teeth before coming to school.

Thank you in advance for your kindness and consideration. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at _________.

Best regards,
(Your name)

If your school has specific policies regarding food allergies, make photocopies and attach it to your letter, marking the relevant passages with a pen or highlighter.

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