Moving away from the harmless sneeze or watery eyes, allergies are now classified as debilitating conditions that require careful management and lifestyle changes. According to the statistics published by Allergy UK, young children and toddlers are four times more at risk of developing life-threatening food allergies than adults.
What causes allergies?
Allergies occur when a person’s body immune system reacts to a (usually harmless) substance, treating it as an invader. In such cases, the immune system treats the substance as a threat to the body and triggers the release of a substance called ''histamine' to fight off the invaders. It is the histamine that causes the body to develop symptoms of allergic reactions.
The allergic reactions can develop every time the person tastes, touches or breathes in the substances their body is allergic to. Some of the common causes of allergic food reaction are nuts, eggs, cow’s milk, soya, mustard, celery, sesame, tomatoes, wheat and seafood. Although some allergies are hereditary and passed on from parents to children, some allergies can be triggered by several factors such as nutritional deficiencies or a weak immune system.
General symptoms of allergy
Mild/ Moderate Reaction:
- Swollen lips, eyes or face
- Itchy rash around moth, tongue or eyes
- Runny nose
- Vomiting or nausea
- Stomach cramps
- Sudden breathing difficulties/ noisy breathing
- Wheeze or persistent cough
- Pale skin
- Swollen tongue
What can you do to prevent an allergic reaction at your early years setting?
Have clear policies and procedures in place: Make sure you have clear policies and procedures in place to identify and respond appropriately to allergic reactions. Ensure all staff members are trained to follow recommended procedures and confident to administer CPR or apply adrenaline auto-injectors, if required.
Create easily accessible allergy action plans: Make sure you use an ''all about me form' to gather all details/history of allergies, food intolerances or specific dietary requirements during the time of registration. Use the information to create easily accessible allergy action plans for each child. The action plan for each child should contain the following details:
- Name of the child
- Date of Birth
- Photograph of the child
- Details of allergy
- Symptoms to watch out for
- Medication Required
- Emergency contacts
- Instructions for emergency response
Check out bsaci for some useful downloadable allergy action plans for children.
If you are using a childcare app at your setting, you can also consider creating tags for children with allergies to access and filter out details quickly.
Good communication with the parents: Many food allergies go undetected for a long time even when the children continue to display symptoms of an allergy or intolerance.
For instance, signs of eczema breakouts, constipation or diarrhoea are not often linked immediately to food allergies as it can arise from a number of other factors. This results in the child continuing the diet while possibly displaying the symptoms of allergy to a food type or ingredient. Although these reactions might not be life-threatening, the symptoms do not go away until the food is removed from the child’s diet.
So, if you suspect a child might be displaying symptoms that can be attributed to an allergy, make sure you bring it to the notice of the parents immediately.
Be thorough in the preparations for catering to children with allergies: Ensure the food for children with special diets is prepared away from the main food preparation areas. Make sure all the plate, bowls and cutlery used for special diet food are colour coded and easily distinguishable. Display charts in the kitchen and food preparation areas with the photographs and dietary details of all children on special diets.
Reduce exposure to allergens: Even if you have no children with known allergies in your setting, make it a rule to avoid the use of allergy-inducing ingredients such as nuts or flours with gluten when cooking or baking with children. Discourage children from bringing in cakes, sweet or home-made food during birthdays or celebrations to minimise the risk of accidental exposure.
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