Your kids may be enjoying the lazy days of summer, but if they have asthma, allergies, or both, they need to be prepared for back-to-school. And so do their classrooms. More than 10 million kids under age 18 have asthma, and 11 percent suffer from respiratory allergies. About 6 percent have also been diagnosed with food allergies.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), on any given day, more than 10,000 kids miss school due to asthma, adding up to millions of lost days every year. The classroom - and the playing field - can be full of triggers for kids who suffer from allergies and asthma.
"Parents need to be advocates for their kids, to help ensure they're breathing well with clear minds and able to navigate the triggers that sometimes stand in their way," said allergist Michael Foggs, MD, ACAAI president. "If kids are having difficulty breathing, are sneezing, have runny noses and itchy eyes, and haven't slept well the night before, they won't perform at their best."
Following are some tips from ACAAI to help your kids enjoy healthy, symptom-free days in the classroom and out on the sports field.
Plan Ahead to get to the head of the class:
• Before school starts, if you suspect your child may have allergies or asthma, make an appointment with a board-certified allergist. An allergist will put together an allergy action plan for your child by pointing out triggers, and helping them understand what causes their symptoms. Studies show that children with asthma under the care of an allergist have a 77 percent reduction in lost time from school.
• Make an appointment with your child's teacher and/or school administrator to walk through the classroom to look for triggers such as a classroom pet, pollen and dust. Be aware that classmates with a pet at home can also trigger an allergic reaction in your little one, since these allergens can be transferred to school via clothing and backpacks. If your child is coughing, having difficulty breathing, has a rash, runny nose or is sneezing, it may be an allergic reaction to something at school and he or she may need medication.
• Share your child's treatment plan with school staff. It needs to include a list of substances that trigger your child's allergies or asthma, and a list of medications taken by your child.
• Discuss how to handle emergencies. Since 2010, all 50 states have laws protecting students' rights to carry and use asthma and anaphylaxis medications at school. Children who are at risk for a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) also should have epinephrine to use to prevent the dangerous reaction that may be caused by allergies to certain foods or insect stings. Be sure your child and school staff know how to use emergency medications.
• If your child has food allergies, he or she should bring a bagged lunch to school every day and avoid sharing food, napkins and utensils with others.
Help your child get and stay on the playing field. Go Team!
• Most kids love recess and getting out on the playing field. Children with asthma and other allergic diseases should be able to participate in any sport they choose, provided the allergist's advice is followed. Asthma symptoms during exercise may indicate poorly-controlled medication.
• For kids, just like for adults, the key to exercising outdoors is being prepared. If you know your child is allergic to pollen, check the pollen levels in your area and start medications two weeks prior to when levels are at their worst.
Every child wants to feel their best at home and at school. You can help your kids this fall by being prepared. The more they know how to control symptoms, the better equipped you all are when faced with obstacles.