Updated 08 October 2014

Allergy attacks at school – lives at risk

Sending your child off to school for the very first time can be daunting – and when that child has allergies, you may have good reason to be concerned.

A recent survey by Pharma Dynamics, a pharmaceutical company specialising in allergies found that neither students nor teachers knew what to do in case of a severe allergic attack, putting children’s lives at risk.

International studies have shown that the incidence of  anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that may cause death, is on the increase. Figures are scant for South Africa, but a Western Cape-based allergy clinic which started a registry last September already reported 90 cases in the region alone.

Read: When allergies turn deadly
            All about anaphylaxis

Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics says more and more cases are being reported worldwide of children dying or suffering multiple heart attacks at school, following a major allergic attack. 

Not only nuts

“Almost all of these cases are accidental. It’s as simple as a teacher offering a child a treat for good behaviour, without knowing about the child’s nut allergy, or realising that the treat contains nuts, or was prepared in a factory where nuts are handled.

“It isn’t only nuts you have to watch out for,” she remarks. “Children can have anaphylactic reactions to milk, eggs, soy, fish, wheat, certain insect stings and bites and even some medication.  Some are so sensitive that the mere residue left on a toy from someone having eaten the allergen can send them to the hospital with a serious reaction.

“It is essential that when your child has a serious and life-threatening condition like this you have a plan in place, way ahead of time. In most cases, if an anaphylactic attack occurs and is treated quickly with the appropriate medication, such as an adrenaline auto-injector (a medical device used to deliver a measured dose of adrenaline), the outcomes are good, but there are far too many cases that end in tragedy,” says van Aswegen.

Read: Nut allergy alert
            Eating more nuts during pregnancy may avoid allergies in kids

Keeping your child safe

To keep your child safe at school van Aswegen offers the following advice:

•        Ensure your child’s school is fully aware of his or her allergies
•        Provide the school with emergency contact information and clear procedures for handling medical issues
•        Explain the early warning signs of an allergic attack to your child’s teachers so they can be aware of early symptoms
•        Provide the school with multiple adrenaline auto-injectors to use in case of anaphylaxis and be sure to check the expiry date.
•        Be sure that your child fully understands his or her allergies and knows what they can and cannot eat or be exposed to
•        Send special snacks and treats your child can eat so he or she doesn't feel left out on special occasions
•        Also consider getting a medical bracelet for your child to wear to school

For guidelines on how to treat children suffering from an allergic attack or how to use an adrenaline auto-injector, parents and teachers can visit


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Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies. obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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