If you are the parent of a child with an allergy you will likely know what causes a reaction in your child and how to prevent it. But does your child know what to do if they start to have an allergic reaction? Do they know what causes their allergy?
Allergies occur when an overactive immune system produces antibodies against substances in the environment that are usually harmless. However, in children who are susceptible to particular substances, exposure to an allergen can result in symptoms that vary from mild to life-threatening.
While you and other caregivers may be well-versed in managing your child’s allergy your child still needs to be made aware of what will happen should they experience an allergic reaction. Creating an allergy action plan with your child is a life-saving action that provides clear directions for your child and your child’s caregiver on how to manage anaphylaxis or a severe allergic reaction.
What is an allergy action plan?
If your child has been diagnosed with anaphylaxis you will have been issued with an “anaphylaxis action plan” by your specialist. This plan outlines the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, outlines how to use an adrenaline auto-injector and lists your child’s allergies and the steps that must be taken if a reaction occurs.
However, if your child has moderate to severe allergies — especially food allergies — their first case of anaphylaxis may happen when you’re not around. For this reason it is essential you create a plan with your child that outlines what they are allergic to, what causes their reaction and what to do if they feel unwell.
Why should you have one?
Stephanie Holdsworth, a registered nurse and mother to a four-year-old with severe allergies, believes children should be made aware of their allergy from an early age.
“An allergy action plan should be made during a consultation with your specialist who will explain things to your child in a manner they can understand,” she says. “It’s important to explain your child’s allergy to them from an early age in a gentle and reassuring way.”
Children should be made aware of their allergen and where they may come across it, says Stephanie.
“They need to know where and when they need to take extra care — for example, they need to watch out in the playground for insect stings and in the lunch room for food allergies,” she says.
Creating an action plan with your child — not just for them — includes them in the learning process of how to manage their own reaction. “Make sure your child knows it is okay to ask for help, or to send a friend to get a caregiver if they become aware of the signs of an impending allergic reaction or if they ‘feel funny’ in the mouth, throat or face,” says Stephanie.
What should you include?
- Your child’s known allergens
- The possible symptoms of an allergic reaction
- Emergency contact information (yours, your doctor’s, and a national emergency number)
- A current photo of your child
Since the severity of reactions is often unpredictable, it’s essential you have an individualised action plan for anaphylaxis, developed with and signed by your doctor.
For an allergy that results in anaphylaxis the ASCIA (Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy) website has an excellent downloadable form you can use to create an action plan for your child. This plan details what to do for a moderate to severe allergic reaction, and what to do for a severe, or anaphylactic, reaction.
If your child hasn’t been diagnosed with anaphylaxis it is still a good idea to have an action plan in place.
If you have other younger children you might also want to make provision for them in your plan as well. “If you need to go with your child in an ambulance, what will happen to your other children?” asks Stephanie. “Is there a grandparent or neighbour who can quickly be called to look after them and reassure them about what they may have just witnessed?”
Who should you give it to?
Your child’s allergy action plan should be given to anyone who cares for your child. Grandparents, childcare workers, teachers and other parents who will at any point be responsible for your child should have a copy of the plan and an understanding of it before your child is left in their care.
It’s a good idea to keep an emergency medical kit on hand that contains both your action plan and any medication recommended by your doctor. This kit should travel with your child at all times and your family, friends, teachers and childcare staff should all know where the kit is located in case of an emergency.