Back to School... with Allergies

Tips to Stay Safe when Heading Back to the Classroom

By Jennifer Dumke | Sioux Falls Woman

Backpacks, school supplies and new clothes are just a few of the life-changes a family with young children undergoes when summer wraps and school begins. Millions of children suffer from serious allergies and asthma. In fact, these stubborn ailments account for over 14 million days of school missed, which in turn greatly affects the parents’ work schedules. But aside from inconvenience, allergies can be a life-threatening condition for some kids. And while most schools have protocols for children with allergies, it's ultimately up to the parent to identify the type of condition – with the consult of a physician – and communicate a plan of action for avoidance and treatment.

But how do you know if you child has allergies? Daniel Todd, MD, FACS of Midwest Ear, Nose and Throat, has been treating children with allergies for many years and has extensive experience in dealing with the transition from summer vacation to school. “Oftentimes, the environmental change, such as a new classroom, can trigger allergies,” says Dr. Todd. Parents should be on the lookout for symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion and drainage. “Be more cautious if the child displays more serious symptoms such as wheezing or shortness of breath,” he adds.

If a parent suspects a child has allergies, it’s critical they get tested. “It is impossible to avoid or prepare for what you don’t know,” says Dr. Todd. “Getting allergy testing and examining lung function lets physicians know how to medicate, avoid and prepare for school.” He adds, “Once we know that, it’s important to make a trip and visit the classroom to further identify the triggers.”

After identifying the allergy, a treatment plan can be enforced. These range from taking a simple medication, such as an antihistamine at home, to allergy shots administered in a clinic; both of which don’t have much effect on a child’s school day routine unless there’s a large exposure. For more serious cases, like peanut and other life-threatening allergies, parents need to prepare their educators to make sure the child carries an injector. “Teachers and staff will need to be aware and familiarize themselves with using injectors,” he adds. Adjusting the child’s diet and those around them will also need to be enforced.

Other common allergies require the use of a rescue inhaler. “Physical education teachers may need special training on exactly what your child may require to participate fully,” Dr. Todd says. He adds that it’s important to not let certain allergies and asthma diminish abilities. “Overall, back to school should be a fun and exciting time for all children, even those with allergies. Just make sure to prepare and communicate to make it a positive – and safe – experience for everyone.”