For millions of children with allergies and asthma, heading back-to-school with high levels of fall pollens and molds in the air and exposure to potential allergens and viruses in class can really take a toll. In fact, asthma, which can be triggered by allergies and respiratory illnesses, causes a 46 percent increase in emergency room visits among children during the season, and is the number one reason why students chronically miss school.
“The beginning of the school year is an exciting time for kids, but children with uncontrolled allergies and asthma can face health hazards,” says allergist James Sublett, MD, chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s (ACAAI) public relations committee. “An allergist can help your child avoid missing school by identifying potential allergy and asthma triggers and developing a treatment plan to keep symptoms in check.”
The ACAAI and its allergist members, doctors who are experts at diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma, suggest the following strategies to help prevent allergy and asthma flare-ups at school.
1. Schedule a back-to-school check-up. Visit your allergist to be sure your child’s allergy and asthma symptoms are under control. If your child has never seen an allergist, back-to-school is the perfect time to schedule an appointment to find out what triggers symptoms with allergy tests and develop a plan for treatment.
2. Share treatment plan with school staff. The school staff should have a copy of your child’s treatment plan which should include a list of substances that trigger your child’s allergies or asthma, a list of medications taken by your child and a list of emergency contact information.
3. Ward off the flu. Have your child get a seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 (swine) flu shot, especially if they have asthma. Because asthma, seasonal flu and H1N1 (swine) flu are respiratory diseases, people with asthma may have more frequent and severe asthma attacks when they have the flu resulting in a more severe case and longer recovery.
4. Meet with the school nurse, teachers and coaches. All caregivers who supervise your child during the school day should have a copy of the treatment plan and you should meet with them to discuss how they can help in control your child’s symptoms. Signs of irritability, inability to concentrate or temper tantrums may be subtle signs that your child is having symptoms of asthma or allergies. Ask school staff to identify when and where your children’s symptoms worsen, so you can work with the doctor to adjust the treatment plan accordingly.
5. Discuss how to handle emergencies. With an allergist’s recommendation, children should be permitted to keep inhaled medications with them at school, and most states have laws protecting this right. Children who are at risk for a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) also should have an epinephrine kit to prevent the dangerous reaction that may be caused by allergies to certain foods or insect stings. Be sure that your child and school staff knows how to use emergency medications and complete a permission form that allows school staff to administer medications if needed.
7. Investigate class pets. If your child is allergic to animal dander, ask that class pets that could trigger a reaction, such as hamsters and rabbits, be removed.
8. Hit the gym. After school sports, recess and gym class activities can trigger asthma attacks. Work with coaches, recess monitors and physical education teachers, so they recognize the major signs and symptoms of asthma, such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
9. Share food allergy information far and wide. Share a list of the foods your child is allergic to and safe alternatives with teachers, lunch attendants, the school nurse and class volunteers. Don’t forget to alert your child’s art teacher and Boy or Girl Scout leader as well; food is often used in art projects and at after-school activities.
10. Tour your child’s school. Visit areas such as classrooms, art rooms, the gymnasium and cafeteria to identify substances that may trigger your child’s asthma or allergies.