Summer is coming to an end, and parents are getting ready to send their children back to school. If you have a child with allergies or asthma, it is important that both you and your child are prepared. The start of a new school year is the perfect time to make sure that your child’s allergies or asthma are well managed, at home and in the classroom. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Good Habits Start at Home
Before the first day of school, make sure your child’s allergies and asthma are under control. It is important that your child take their asthma or allergy medications as prescribed on a regular, consistent basis. Skipping medications can lead to increased symptoms, which often equals less time at school. Schedule a visit with your allergist so that medications can be refilled, and appropriate school forms can be filled out. If your child is old enough, he/she should know when and how to use his/her inhaler or epinephrine auto-injector.
Check Out the Classroom
If possible, make an appointment to meet your child’s teacher and check out the classroom before school starts. This can help you identify potential asthma or allergy triggers. There are many potential triggers in schools including dust mites, molds, animal dander, and chalk dust. You can ask the teacher questions like “do you keep the classroom windows open?”, which increases the risk of pollen exposure, “what type of cleaning products are used?” since exposure to certain chemicals can induce an asthma attack, or “will there be any classroom pets?” Discuss housing a furless pet such as a fish, frog, or turtle. If your child has an allergy to animal dander, inform the teacher that exposure to peers with pets at home can induce symptoms since dander from the animal can be carried on clothing. If this occurs, a new seating arrangement might be necessary.
Talk with teachers, classroom assistants, bus drivers, coaches, and the school nurse about your child’s condition and what emergency medications will be available. If your child is carrying their own allergy or asthma medication with them, make sure you communicate this information as well.
It is important to work with an allergist to determine exactly what foods your child may be allergic to. If your child is allergic to certain foods, make sure the school is fully informed. Provide the school with an Anaphylaxis Action Plan and epinephrine auto-injectors. Talk to the cafeteria staff to find out what allergen-free meal options are available and how your child can request one. Teach your child the importance of not sharing food, napkins, or utensils with their peers, knowing what their body might do if they were to have a reaction, and telling an adult if they start to have a reaction at school, or if they suspect they ate something containing the allergen. If your child is old enough to carry their own epinephrine auto-injector, be sure they know the proper way to administer it and to report to an adult after using it. Talk to the teachers and teacher assistants about having an allergen-free policy for snacks or celebrations like birthdays. Be vigilant about talking to your child about their food-related experiences at school.
Recess, Gym Class, and After-School Sports
Exercise can induce asthma symptoms such as coughing or wheezing, known as exercise-induced bronchospasm. Children with EIB could be wary about participating in physical activities, but it is very important for children to stay active. Work with the school staff to develop a plan to keep your child symptom-free while exercising. This includes using a short-acting inhaler (like albuterol) 15 minutes prior to exercise, drinking plenty of water before, during and after exercise, and choosing sports that are less likely to trigger symptoms. Make sure the school has an Asthma Action Plan in place for your child, as well as any asthma medications prescribed. If your child carries their own inhaler, make sure they know how and when to use it. Keep track of how often your child is using their rescue inhaler and report any significant increase to your health care provider.
Outdoor activities also pose a risk for those with a stinging insect allergy. Children should avoid disturbing bees and wasps. Make sure the school has an Anaphylaxis Action Plan in place, and supply them with an epinephrine auto-injector if prescribed.
Turn in Proper Documentation
Most schools have a specific medication form that needs to be filled out prior to the first day of school for your child to keep emergency medicines with the school nurse or in their backpack. Contact the school for the forms and bring them to your visit with the allergist to be reviewed and signed. Make sure all medications supplied to the school are within expiration and will not expire during the school year. In addition to medication forms, provide copies of Anaphylaxis Action Plans or Asthma Action Plans to the school nurse.
Whether it’s volunteering in your child’s classroom, chaperoning field trips, or joining the PTA, being involved in your child’s school life is a great way to feel more confident about sending your child away from home. Have conversations with your child about how school is going, and be sure to address any concerns or questions they might have.
The Allergy & Asthma Center team wishes all of you a happy, healthy school year!
To schedule an appointment with one of our Allergists, call The Allergy & Asthma Center at 1-800-778-9923 or fill out a contact us form online.