Everybody knows that allergies are a total drag. Who wants to spend the beautiful warm months with a runny nose and itchy eyes? But allergies can have another unfortunate side effect: They can cause a lack of concentration known as “brain fog,” which can lead to poor academic performance.
"When people feel tired and are having a tough time concentrating due to allergies, they describe it as brain fog or being foggy-headed,” says Dr. Jeffrey Dietrich, a board-certified allergist at Charleston Allergy & Asthma. He notes that seasonal allergies can have a major effect on students. “Spring is often when, in the Lowcountry, we’re doing end-of-year testing and standardized testing, and that’s when pollen is the highest. But even during back-to-school in the fall is when things like ragweed are blooming, so that can be a tough time of year too.”
Here are five ways allergies could be affecting your child’s academic performance — and what you can do about it.
1. How Allergies Hurt School Performance
"When they’re having stuffy, runny noses, kids may not sleep as well and they may wake up periodically during the night, which can lead to fatigue the next day and poor concentration, poor problem-solving skills, and memory issues,” Dr. Dietrich says.
Additionally, if allergy symptoms like runny, itchy nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes occur during the school day, that can distract a child in real time and prevent optimal concentration. Sometimes, symptoms are so bad that students miss school and fall behind. Allergies are one of the most common reasons children miss school and subsequently parents miss work. Finally, some allergy medications can be sedating and can affect concentration and focus. That could include classic antihistamines like Benadryl, but even the more modern "non-drowsy" medicines can affect sensitive people.
2. Get Your Child Tested
First, visit a board-certified immunologist and have your child tested. “The most important thing is to determine what is causing your child’s issue: Is it truly allergies you’re trying to treat? It’s best to get accurate testing to identify what, specifically, someone is allergic to. Then your allergist can help with advising on avoiding those allergens and can work with parents on finding the best treatment options for that child,” Dr. Dietrich says.
3. Treat the Allergy Your Child Has
Once you know exactly what your child’s allergic to, you can do your best to help them avoid those allergens. And if your child is allergic to a particular type of pollen, for example, “then you know what time of year the symptoms will kick in, and can follow pollen counts to start the child on meds before their pollen season begins, to keep symptoms controlled,” Dr. Dietrich says. Charleston Allergy & Asthma counts the pollen locally and provides the counts daily on their website.
4. Get the Non-Drowsy Alternative
Next, your doctor can help make sure your child is on the right medication for his particular symptoms — and can help prescribe an oral medicine or nasal spray that will not cause drowsiness. “If you have kids who haven’t been treated, it’s good to get a skin test so they aren’t taking medicines they don’t need,” Dr. Dietrich says.
5. Consider Immunotherapy
Finally, if you want to ensure long-term relief beyond just suppressing symptoms, you might consider immunotherapy. This treatment option shifts a person’s immune response when they come into contact with the offending allergen. “It’s the only treatment that can cure allergies over time.” Dr. Dietrich says. “So students wouldn’t have to struggle year after year or continue to take medicines indefinitely.”
Need guidance in treating allergies? Reach out to Charleston Allergy & Asthma for an appointment. Their board-certified doctors have been providing allergy and asthma care in the Lowcountry for over 30 years. They have locations in Mt. Pleasant, Summerville, and West Ashley. For more information, call (843) 881-2030 or visit charlestonallergy.com/request-appointment/