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Allergic to School?

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.