We know that this time of year allergies affect plenty of people. The numbers are high, about 40% of Americans are affected and that means children, too. When children suffer from allergies, they often miss school, or are feeling so bad at school that they can’t focus or concentrate. All of this can impact school performance. Think about the school day, children are often hungry or tired, throw a headache, sniffly nose and constant sneezing into that and it makes it even harder to focus. This is another instance of where allergies have to be managed or they could have long term negative impact.
Allergies take a toll on learning. In an article on Webmd, it is reported that “on any given day, about 10,000 of those children miss school because of their allergies. That’s a total of more than 2 million lost school days every year.” That’s a lot of lost time! Remember, too, this is actual time reported, not to mention when a kid feels just too lousy to concentrate. Often schools administer standardized testing in the spring, right in the height of allergy season. These tests may contribute to school ratings and ranks and student placement. What happens to the kid who bombs the test because he can’t stop sneezing or he’s too foggy to really concentrate because of his allergy med and the test is not a true reflection of his abilities?
If you’re finding that your child’s allergies are affecting school performance, you could be on the right track. Often allergy symptoms are hidden and those that affect aren’t the obvious ones. Because allergies can affect sleep patterns, kids with allergies may be more tired during allergy season. Allergies can also bring on behavior problems, especially in younger kids who don’t know how to really express their allergic symptoms. Allergy symptoms can manifest in more ways than sneezing and lead to bigger ailments like ear and sinus infections. Sometimes if the symptoms are severe, it’s better to keep your child home from school even though he’s not officially “sick.”
With good treatment, not only can your child learn better and focus more on school assignments, but his overall well being can improve. Doctors can recommend appropriate treatment for the specific symptoms, maybe some type of allergy medication or nasal spray to take while allergies are being in effect. Make sure you follow the doctor’s directions on administering the medicine for best results. Depending on the severity of the allergy, the doctor may also recommend allergy shots until the child shows improvement of symptoms. You can do some other things to help your child out at school like the following:
• Make sure your child’s teacher is aware of the allergy and the symptoms (she’ll be relieved all that sneezing and sniffling is not a contagious cold!).
• Talk to the teacher about possible triggers and how to avoid them. For instance, maybe on high pollen count days your child could stay inside with another class instead of going out to recess.
• If medication (eye drops, nasal spray, any medication) needs to be taken at school, make sure you follow all proper procedure and that your child is actually taking the medicine.
• Let the teacher know about any side effects that may occur from the medicine. It will make things easier for everyone.
• Have your child keep a box of tissues at his desk so he doesn’t need to keep getting up.
Nobody wants to suffer from hay fever. It’s annoying, uncomfortable, irritating, plus hard to avoid so many people just have to live with it. However, by treating allergies proactively and letting teachers know of your child’s situation, you and your child may be able to get through allergy season a little better and a little more focused.
To medicate or not to medicate?
You can’t keep your child home from school every day the pollen count is high, so you need to choose whether to send him to school with his symptoms or to medicate, especially on test days.
Though being at school while suffering from allergies can be uncomfortable to say the least, it’s hard to decide if the sneezing and itching eyes are the lesser of two evils. With over the counter antihistamines, including nasal sprays, come side effects. These can include drowsiness, grogginess and the impaired ability to pay attention and concentrate; no good while at school, especially while testing.
In the article, When Allergy Medicine Goes to School, Janna Tuck, M.D., chairwoman of the pediatrics committee of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology compares the impairment caused by OTC antihistamines to the impairment caused by alcohol. Most people are unaware of the effects OTC medicine can have, especially on children, yet they can be quite severe and affect more than what meets the eye.
It has recently been found that it is better to deal with the symptoms themselves at school than risk performance while taking antihistamines. Due to the drowsiness and inability to attend that many antihistamines can cause, test performance may be lower if taking these medicines than if symptoms are left alone.
In a study in the UK, it was found that students are likely to drop a grade when on OTC allergy medication. Those with hayfever symptoms on exam days were 40% more likely to drop a grade between their mock and their final exams and if they were on a sedating allergy medication at the time of their exam, the probablility of dropping a grade increased to 70%. Read more about the study here.
Some prescription medications may not be quite so sedating, so if symptoms are bad enough to warrant medication, it may be worth a trip to the doctor. Also, all medications effect people differently, especially children. Correct dosage guidelines must be followed and many doctors recommend beginning the medication weeks before the anticiapted allergy strikes.
It appears, however, that a bit of a runny nose and some sneezing may have to be endured to get the grades, or perhaps a look into the many forms of alternative ways of alleviating allergy symptoms would help the symptoms without causing the negative side effects.
Self-medication of a child
Now that all 50 states have made it legal for kids to carry their own asthma medications, it is time to check their responsibility. For some, it may still be better for their teachers or school nurse to hang onto the medicine, but for many students, this can be something that can make a huge impact on not only their school day but also their health.
In an article on newswise.com some recommendations are given to decide whether your child is ready or not carry his own medication:
Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA), the leading national nonprofit family organization for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
AANMA suggests using these questions to use as a guide to determine whether your child is ready to self-medicate:
• Does your child use an inhaler (preferably with a holding chamber) correctly at home?
• Does he know the name of his medication and when he is supposed to use it?
• Does he stay calm when having asthma symptoms?
• Does he tell you when he is having symptoms or when he has used the inhaler?
• Does he use a peak flow meter?
• Does your child carry his inhaler with him at all times?
• Does he understand that the inhaler is not a toy and should not be shared with friends?
• Is your child able to use auto-injectable epinephrine correctly without assistance?
• Does your child know what to do immediately after using the auto-injectable epinephrine? (The right answer is to tell an adult to take him to the hospital.)
• Does your child wear a medical identification tag or bracelet for use in emergency situations?
• Does he understand that auto-injectable epinephrine is not a toy and should not be shared with friends?
“Yes” answers indicate a ready and willing student. “No” answers represent an opportunity to teach your child new skills and bolster his confidence so that when the time comes (and it will come) to make a medical decision, he is more likely to make the right one.
Then there’s the question of maturity. Does your child demonstrate a responsible attitude and respect for his symptoms, his medications and the need to avoid situations that place him at risk?
Whether a childe will self medicate or still seek assistance is up to the parents. Just make sure he is comfortable in doing so as well as able, and a new set of positive responsibility will be part of those important growth steps.