The start of the school year is stressful for everyone. From finding your new classes to managing daily homework, there is plenty of readjusting that needs to be done. But for students with food allergies, there are often extra steps and concerns involved in this process.
As a high school student entering my senior year, I understand how much work goes into this process and any anxiety a child may have at the beginning of the school year. I'm going to break down my annual routine and provide any helpful tips along the way to help you prepare for the school year.
#1: The Allergist
This whole process starts before the first period bell rings on the first day with, of course, the yearly visit to the allergist.
At this appointment, not only do I go for my annual check-up, but I also get any medical forms the school and nurses may need as well as my renewed Epi-Pen prescriptions.
These forms are often required by the school and are very important if you have food allergies the school needs to know about. Some schools also require EpiPens or other epinephrine auto-injectors to be new so that they last for the entire school year.
Once all this is acquired and all the forms are filled out, it is time for the first day.
#2: The First Day
Once school finally begins, I have to hand-deliver my EpiPens, Benadryl, and medical forms to the nurse who will have them in case of an emergency.
While the nurse has my EpiPens, I also self-carry my own in a smaller bag that I have with me all day. Yes, this bag can sometimes be annoying to carry (and I know many allergy kids that don't self-carry their EpiPens at school), but I like to have the reassurance that if something ever happens, I don't have to wait for the nurse.
In the event of anaphylaxis, the sooner you can get that life-saving medication, the better. But that's not to say that self-carrying doesn't come with its own set of problems. Depending on your age or grade, especially with younger children, the school may not allow self-carrying, so it's important to discuss this with your school beforehand.
In addition to the basics of simply having your medication, having food allergies means informing most, if not all, of your teachers at the beginning of the year.
It is so important to let your teachers know right away if you have any allergies so they are aware in the event that food is used or eaten in the classroom.
I have had numerous teachers offer snacks to the class that have my allergen in it or use food for science labs and class activities. This often happens if I forget to inform them ahead of time about my allergens. I know it can be awkward or uncomfortable, especially as a teenager, but it really is necessary.
Finally, one of the hardest parts of the school day for students with allergies comes at lunchtime.
Growing up, lunch was always one of the most stressful parts of my day. I would spend the period alone at the dedicated “food allergy table” and would be separated from the rest of my classmates. But this improved once I entered middle school and high school, where I had much more freedom to choose where and when I ate lunch.
The cafeteria tables are often not properly cleaned between lunch periods, which could be dangerous as there is no telling what allergens could be right on the table. I normally avoid the cafeteria all together and eat lunch in the library or one of my classrooms (with the teacher’s permission, of course).
However, if you do want to eat in the cafeteria, or there is simply no other option, I would recommend carrying wipes around with you. I have wipes with me 24/7, and it has been a lifesaver. Whenever I go eat somewhere that might not necessarily be cleaned to my own comfort or simply want to clean my hands, I just use my own wipes.
Additionally, food options provided by the school might not be safe to eat, and it is always important to discuss your concerns with your school, the nurse, and the cafeteria staff. Remember, your safety is the top priority – if you are unsure, don't eat it!
I hope that my experiences as a food allergy kid entering my final year of high school can provide some insight into the back-to-school process. Here's to another great school year!