Many children may feel like they are allergic to school -- however, there's a chance that your child actually is. If school makes your child feel ill, don't simply discount it as back-to-school-blues. The classroom is a new environment, with new allergens and irritants. These can cause new symptoms - or familiar ones - such as sneezing, runny nose and nasal congestion, eye irritation, headaches. These symptoms can lead to irritability, exhaustion, and trouble concentrating.
Some allergens commonly found at school include:
- chalk dust
- dust mites
- animal dander and allergens from classroom pets
- irritants and by-products from new construction - dust, odors, and the chemicals in new carpeting and flooring
- air fresheners, colognes and perfumes, and other artificial scents
You do your best to make your home clean and allergy-free, but you have less control over the school environment. So what can you do? First, you have to think like a detective, asking questions and paying attention to triggers - carefully evaluate what could be causing your child's symptoms. Second, make a plan. Anticipate that there will be new allergens present, and talk with your child about ways to avoid them. Here are a few tips for parents, children, and teachers, for a healthy and allergy-free school year.
What parents and children can do to avoid school allergy symptoms:
- If you suspect that your child is allergic to something at school, try taking a tour of their school and class room. The offending allergen might be hard to identify, but easy to spot once you're there.
- Visit an allergist or immunologist if you haven't already. They can advise you on appropriate medication, immunotherapy, and prevention techniques.
- Ask your child about classroom pets. Hamsters and gerbils can cause allergy symptoms too.
- If your child comes home from school with nasal congestion, make sure their symptoms are alleviated before bedtime. A stuffy nose can keep your child from sleeping properly, hindering their performance in school the next day.
- When playing outside at school, children should avoid fields and weeds, which may harbor large amounts of pollen, particularly during the fall ragweed season.
- Talk to teachers about what they can do to help. Communicating your concerns and some ideas for a more allergy-free classroom may help your child, and his or her classmates as well. Maintain a supportive, communicative relationship with your child's teacher.
What teachers can do to avoid school allergy symptoms:
- Make sure that dust does not accumulate in the classroom.
- Keep classroom windows closed, since pollen can come in from the outside.
- Chalk dust can trigger allergies or irritate symptoms. If you use a chalkboard, allergic children should not sit in the front row.
- Choose your classroom pet carefully. Consider an aquarium or a reptile.
- If you have a chemically sensitive child in your class, choose craft projects that don't use known irritants.
- For pre-schoolers who sometimes take naps at school, any pillows provided should have allergy-proof dust mite encasings.
- Cleaning with harsh chemical solutions should be done after hours or at night, when no children are in the classroom.
- Speak to your school administrator about purchasing a classroom air purifier. It will help everyone breathe better.