5 Negative Effects of Allergies on School Performance

Itchy eyes and a runny nose are annoying for sure. But those allergy symptoms are often just the tip of the iceberg for children who suffer from chronic allergies. More severe and prolonged symptoms combined with drowsiness-inducing medications can wreak havoc on a child’s school performance.

Allergies can impact children’s overall school performance, grades and health.

1. Allergies = Missing School

About 40 percent of children suffer from allergies, with symptoms causing them to miss 2 million school days, says Dr. Meredith Moore, a board certified allergist at Charleston Allergy & Asthma.

2. Poor Sleep = Poor Concentration

Teens and children with a stuffy nose and nasal congestion don’t sleep as well. They tend to wake up briefly throughout the night, leaving them fatigued the next day and struggling to concentrate at school.

3. A Drop In Test Scores

Dr. Moore points to a British study that researched children’s standardized test scores at different times of the year. Pollen season test scores of children with allergies, or those taking allergy medicine, were a full grade lower than their scores in the winter season when there was no pollen exposure.

And, Dr. Moore notes, the study found that of the children taking a sedating antihistamine, 70 percent scored a grade lower on their tests.

Here in the Charleston area, children usually take their standardized tests near the end of the school year when grass and tree pollen counts are higher.

4. Back to School … Back to Allergies

Weed pollen and ragweed are at their highest in the fall – just as students are heading back to the classroom. It can make for a tough start to a new school year when students are battling allergy symptoms while trying to concentrate on new classes, new schedules and the added pressures of a new school year.

5. Medications Slow Down Kids

In trying to alleviate their child’s symptoms, parents turn to medications. They pick up over-the-counter allergy medicines and antihistamines to keep watery eyes and sneezing at bay.

In trying to control those symptoms, the medications often impact a child’s ability to pay attention, while affecting memory, reaction time and dexterity, Dr. Moore explains. And even the medications labeled as non-drowsy can have mild impacts on a child’s ability to function properly.

With a new school year on the horizon, what can parents do to alleviate allergy symptoms without impacting their child’s school performance?

Dr. Moore says the most important thing is for parents to understand exactly which allergies their child has. Allergy testing will reveal the greatest culprits – environmental, food or other sensitivities.

Armed with this information, parents can begin treatment options before sleep and school performance are impacted, she says. Charleston Allergy & Asthma tracks local pollen counts, so if a child is especially sensitive to something like ragweed, they can start treatment a week or two before the symptoms really kick in.

Nasal steroids may be an option as they don’t cause students to be drowsy, but they do need a full week to take effect. Allergy shots are also an option to help families avoid losses in productivity while improving a child’s quality of life. Dr. Moore says patients who rely on allergy shots have 81 percent better symptom control.

Immunotherapy tablets are available for those with allergies to dust mites, ragweed and grass, making them a viable alternative to monthly allergy shots.

Also, in preparing for the start of a new school year, parents should make sure they have an adequate supply of needed medications at home and, if necessary, at school. Students with severe food allergies or asthma should have an action plan in place that’s shared with teachers and the school nurse.

"Having allergy symptoms stinks,” Dr. Moore says. “But it’s amazing when parents and children realize there are really great treatment options out there that can change their quality of life.”

For help with your child’s allergies, make an appointment at one of Charleston Allergy and Asthma’s three offices in Mount Pleasant, West Ashley and Summerville. Call (843) 881-2030 or visit charlestonallergy.com.