by James Sublett, M.D.
When most parents think about preparing for a new school year, the first thing that comes to mind is probably school supplies – books, folders, backpacks, clothes, etc. But as a parent of a child with allergies or asthma, a return to school can involve a whole different type of preparation.
School children with allergies and asthma must learn how to manage their environments before the environment takes control of their health. While at home, allergies and asthma are more effectively managed because parents can ensure the carpets are regularly vacuumed, furniture dusted, filters changed, mold killed, foods eliminated, etc. But at school, you can’t always protect your child from the allergens that might induce an allergy or asthma attack. So what can you do to safely prepare your child for a return to school?
- Meet with the school nurse, administrator and teacher to make sure they understand your child’s allergies and/or asthma. Bring along a letter from your allergist outlining your child’s asthma/allergies in detail, precautions that need to be followed and the prescribed medication and treatment plans. Make copies of this letter for the nurse, teachers and for your child’s file. You have the right to ask that potted plants be removed from classrooms (they grow mold), class pets be avoided (pets can trigger attacks) or windows be closed while the grass is being mowed.
- If your child has food allergies also request a meeting with the cafeteria manager. Provide the school with written instructions for response to any allergic reaction, administration of medications and phone numbers to use in case of emergency. Make sure all involved understand the severity of food allergies. If your child has peanut allergies, request a “peanut-free” lunch table.
- By law, children are allowed to carry inhalers and Epi-pens with them, instead of having to store them in the school office. Still, be sure the teacher and school nurse understand how to use these in case the child cannot administer on his own.
- Ask school administrators to inform you in advance of renovation or construction repairs, such as new carpeting, painting, removing ceiling tiles, resurfacing the parking areas or tarring the roof. Fumes and dust from these activities can be bothersome to even the healthiest of lungs and nasal passages; however, to a child with asthma or allergies, the irritants can trigger the inflammatory process and bring on days or weeks of symptoms.
- If your child suffers from exercise-induced asthma, meet with the physical education teacher and discuss inhaler use if needed or other measures to reduce triggering symptoms.
If the child is old enough, he or she can also take an active role in controlling allergies at school. Allow the child to be in charge of packing his own lunch. Make sure plenty of “allowable” food is included so he can share with friends. This way the child can feel his or her food is appealing. When snacks or treats are brought into school, allow your food-allergic child to bring his own treat so he may also take part. If the parents and classmates are aware of the child’s food allergy, many will try to bring something your child can eat.
Children with asthma miss more than 10 million school days a year in the U.S. When you add allergies to the equation, the numbers soar even higher. However, with the right precautions, the school environment should be a healthy place for your child to learn and grow. Contact your local allergist/immunologists with any questions about additional steps that can be taken to ensure your child has a healthy return to school.
James L. Sublett, M.D., is a clinical professor and section chief of pediatric allergy at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He is also Co-Founder andManaging Partner of Family Allergy & Asthma (www.familyallergy.com), a multi-site allergy practice with offices throughout KY and southern Indiana.