The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) states that more than 9 million children under the age of 18 suffer from allergies and asthma which can account for more than 14 million missed school days and millions of dollars in medical bills and lost work days for parents. As a parent and a former teacher, I know there is a high correlation between attendance and school success. In addition, if children just plain feel bad while they are at school, that impacts their ability to concentrate.
Ironically, being at school can be the source of the allergies and asthma. Parents, teachers, and other school staff need to be aware of symptoms and reactions to watch for and take steps to minimize allergens and asthma triggers in the school.
As a concerned parent, you can make sure teachers, administrators, lunchroom staff, the school nurse, and coaches are kept in the loop where it concerns your child's health. It is important for you to impress upon school personnel that issues concerning children with asthma and allergies must be taken seriously. If your child has severe allergies or asthma, the school needs to know that your child's life could depend on their attitude and degree of preparedness. Talk to the school staff at the beginning of the school year. Everyone who will be responsible for your child needs to know what must be avoided and what to do in the event of a serious allergic reaction or an asthma attack.
Allergens & Asthma Triggers In The Classroom & What You Can Do
Visiting your child's classroom and talking with the teacher is an excellent first step in the prevention of allergic reactions and asthma attacks. While you are there, look around for these potential problem spots:
- Area rugs, carpet, & curtains. If your child is allergic to dust mites that can lead to allergy symptoms or an asthma attack, ask the school to remove area rugs and curtains in the classroom. It may not be possible to remove carpet, but if you believe this is a problem, ask the school to use a carpet treatment to kill mites or neutralize the allergen. Strongly urge the school to vacuum daily with a HEPA vacuum cleaner.
- Animals in the classroom permanently or temporarily. If your child is allergic to animal dander and there is a classroom pet, ask if the pet can be moved to another classroom. If this is not possible, ask that your child be seated as far from the animal as possible and that the job of feeding the pet NOT be given to your child. If "show-and-tell" is a regular practice, ask the teacher that children NOT be allowed to bring their pets. Daily vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum cleaner is advisable for pet dander, too.
- Mold. If your child is allergic to mold, check for signs of leaks, visible mold, or a musty smell. Ask the school to immediately repair any leaks (you may want to check the bathroom, too), remove any mold, and check further if mold is not visible but there is a musty smell. A mold barrier can prevent the regrowth of mold for many months. If humidity is regularly over 50%, a dehumidifier for the classroom can also help prevent mold. It may be necessary to use a humidity gauge to determine humidity levels.
- Chalk dust. If your child is sensitive to airborne particles, chalk dust could be an asthma trigger. Ask the teacher to use dustless chalk and to seat your child away from the chalkboard.
- Household dust. Look at blinds, bookcases, and all other surfaces because dust contains many allergens that can lead to an allergic reaction or trigger an asthma attack. If you see dust, ask the teacher to have the room dusted daily.
- Pollen. If your child is allergic to pollen, ask the teacher to keep any windows and outside doors closed.
For airborne particles including animal dander, mold spores, dust, and pollen, a HEPA air cleaner in the classroom can also be of great benefit. Be sure to check square footage of the classroom compared to the area covered by the air cleaner.
Provide all teachers and staff who will be responsible for your child a list of known substances that can cause an allergic reaction or trigger an asthma attack. Your doctor can help. This plan will tell the school what symptoms to look for and what to do at each step, especially when to administer medication or get medical assistance. The National Institutes for Health offers an action plan for asthma that is easy to read.
Food Allergy & What You Can Do
According to AAAAI, approximately 2.2 million school-age children suffer from food allergies. Peanuts, eggs, milk, wheat, tree nuts and soy account for 90 percent of allergic reactions in children. Reactions to food allergies include hives, upset stomach or a severe, life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
Here are the most common food allergy symptoms as stated by the Mayo Clinic:
- Tingling in the mouth
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
The Mayo Clinic says to watch for these signs of anaphylaxis and get medical help immediately if noticed:
- Constriction and tightening of airways
- A swollen throat or a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
- Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
Everyday at school, your child comes in contact with food at lunchtime. Sometimes it is easy to overlook other times food could be a problem such as parties, special lessons, art projects, and field trips. To help keep your child safe:
- Have all food your child eats come from home including lunch and snacks. Baking allergy-free treats will help keep your child from feeling different or left out. (See the Subscriber Only Special for a cookbook.)
- Enlist the help of teachers and cafeteria staff.
- Talk to your child about not trading food or accepting food from others. Ultimately your child is the one in control.
- Keep informed about class activities that could include food like lessons about other countries, birthdays, holidays, art projects involving food, rewards, or field trips. Ask the teacher to let you know what is coming up.
Provide school with info & a food allergy action plan like the one from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and if the allergy is serious, also provide an anaphylaxis action plan like the one from AAAAI.
Alert the school when airborne particulates including pollen are at a level so high that it advisable for your child to stay indoors. You can check the pollen levels in your area online or watch weather reports that include a pollen index.
Allergens & Asthma Triggers On The Playground & In Gym Class & What You Can Do
Children with asthma and allergies do not have to give up playtime or after school sports; they just need to take extra precautions. The Centers For Disease Control offers an asthma action plan to help your child keep asthma under control. Steps you can take include:
- Classroom teachers, physical education teachers, and the school nurse need to know if your child's asthma can be induced by exercise.
- Inform the school if your child has an allergy to any insects.
Provide all teachers and staff who will be responsible for your child with an action plan. Your doctor can help. This plan will tell the school what symptoms to look for and what to do at each step, especially when to administer medication.
The Relationship of Germs to Allergies & Asthma
An allergic reaction that affects your nasal passages increases your risk of a cold. So allergies and germs are not a good combination. And respiratory infections such as the common cold can trigger asthma attacks. Therefore, avoiding contact with germs at school is very important:
- Ask the teacher to wipe surfaces with a broad spectrum disinfectant. The teacher doesn't want to catch a cold either. (This is a good practice at home, too. See the Subscriber Only Special for a free trial size of Vital Oxide.)
- Urge the school to encourage frequent hand washing. Teach your child how to properly wash his hands. The "wash while you sing the birthday song twice" system seems to work well with children.
Sending Your Child With Allergies Or Asthma Off To College
Your child is now independent. Scary thought. I have sent three sons off to college. I know how scary it is. Your almost-grown-up child needs to understand that he is now in charge of his health. Your child will have to seek medical help when needed. But you can help get him off to a good start:
- Make sure the college's medical forms are fully filled out.
- If your child has dust mite allergy, send a mattress encasing, pillow encasing, and box spring encasing. Dorm beds are usually long twin with a platform box spring.
- Sending along an inexpensive HEPA vacuum is also a good idea to capture allergen that has settled on bare floors, area rugs, or carpet.
- For allergies to airborne allergens like pollen, dust, mold spores, and pet dander, a small room HEPA air cleaner can be a good investment as well.