Avoiding Allergies, Asthma In The Classroom

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For children with allergies and asthma, going back to school presents questions beyond what to wear or bring. Are there peanuts in that birthday treat a classmate brought in? Will running in gym class trigger an exercise-induced asthma attack? Could a sting from a bee during recess cause anaphylactic shock? It is reported that more than 9 million children under the age of 18 suffer from allergies and asthma and must face questions similar to these, according to American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

"Allergies and asthma account for over 14 million missed school days, millions of dollars in medical bills and even lost work days for parents of children who suffer from allergic disease," said Wanda Phipatanakul, MD, MS, FAAAAI, Chair of the AAAAI Indoor Allergen Committee. "Therefore, it is important for children and their families to prepare for back-to-school season by learning about ways to prevent allergies and asthma in the classroom. Having a plan of action for avoiding triggers will keep students focused on their school work and not on their symptoms."

Challenges facing students range from discomfort that makes it hard to concentrate on school work, to symptoms that reduce a child's ability to participate in recess or physical education class, to life-threatening reactions from food allergies or insect stings. It is important to know the most common allergens and triggers at school that may cause an allergic or asthmatic reaction. These include:

-- Dust mites

-- Chalk dust

-- Pollen and molds

-- Exercise

-- Insect-stings

-- Animal dander from class pets or pet hair on a student's clothing

-- Pest allergens

If your child has food sensitivities, remind them not to share food with their friends. Six foods to avoid that account for 90% of food allergy in children include:

-- Milk

-- Egg

-- Peanuts

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-- Wheat

-- Soy

-- Tree nuts

Tips to prepare for back-to-school

Parents have less control over the allergens their children may be exposed to at school than they do at home. However, the key to reducing the severity of symptoms in your child is avoidance of the triggers. Take a look at this helpful checklist to find out what you can do to help relieve some potential allergens that may be affecting your child's allergies or asthma during school.

-- Before school starts, tour the school to identify potential allergy/asthma triggers in the classrooms.

-- Schedule a meeting with teachers and the school nurse to discuss your child's allergic condition.

-- Encourage your child to take his or her medications as prescribed.

-- Review your child's triggers with them and encourage them to ask their teacher for help when symptoms worsen.

-- If your child is allergic to certain foods, inform school cafeteria staff and teachers to avoid those and suggest safe alternatives.

-- Have your food sensitive child bring a bag lunch to school each day.

-- Make sure a dose of auto-injectable epinephrine is with your child for emergency situations, and make sure that teachers and the school nurse know how to use it properly.

-- Inform physical education teachers and coaches about asthma and warning signs of exacerbation which could trigger exercise-induced asthma.

How an allergist / immunologist can help

It is important to have good communication with school personnel about your child's allergic condition; but it is also important for your child to see an allergist/immunologist for an evaluation before the school year begins. Allergist/immunologists see children with food allergies, asthma and allergic rhinitis every day and are ideal physicians to consult with about these diseases. They will discuss medications and a treatment plan to help your child have a successful school year. Furthermore, studies have shown that those under the care of an allergist/immunologist make fewer visits to the emergency room and are better able to manage their allergies and asthma.

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