It is time to go back to school, and while it may feel good that children will be back in schools, learning life skills and having fun with their friends, families with children who have allergies are understandably feeling anxious about it. The paranoia is valid, even for parents with healthy children, considering the current situation.

The pandemic poses a risk for every child returning to school, and an additional risk to children with allergies. Caution, and not fear, is what we need at this time. Many school routines have been upended to ensure children’s health and safety, and complying with safety measures is the most sensible thing to do, always.

For starters, children will have to wear masks all the time in school, as it is imperative to curb the spread of the virus. We must remember that wearing a mask will not worsen children’s allergies. But it will not deter allergens from entering their system either. Children with poor immunity are still prone to get seasonal allergies or children with food allergies will still be susceptible to all the usual risks. So checking their allergy symptoms sticking to their regular prescriptions and getting their usual shots must not be skipped.

It is also a good idea to send lunch from home instead of letting children gather at school cafeterias for lunch. One in every 13 children in the US (8% of children) has some or the other food allergy. Since the school environment is very different now, and there is no cure for food allergies, children with food allergies must be reminded to not share food with others, adhere to strict hand washing (as sanitizers do not work on allergen proteins) before as well as after having meals, to maintain a safe distance from others at all times, and to tell some adult immediately if they feel uneasy or unwell.

Younger children can get messy, and can touch their mouth, nose or eyes, or even their desks, walls and the floor while eating, and the first allergic flare-up might go unnoticed because of the masks. Sanitizing is a priority for all schools, but that alone is not enough. Younger children need more training at home and more supervision at school to prevent the slightest chance of cross contamination. The caretakers at school must be made aware of signs of allergic reactions like vomiting, wheezing, trouble breathing, face swelling, rash etc.

For a child with food allergies, a copy of his/her medication plan and a checklist of symptoms to look for must be made available to the school nurse. Teachers also need to avoid using food treats as rewards for doing well in class. When there are any food-oriented events coming up, teachers must inform the parents well in advance about it, and also about birthday parties. Parents need to condition their children to be careful and responsible for their well-being and schools need to provide a safe environment for children returning after this long break.