Tests, Homework, and COVID-19: Why Going Back to School is Tough on Kids with Allergies

Coming on the heels of the lazy days of summer, the return of the school year may feel like a shock to the system where every cough and sneeze will be scrutinized because of the coronavirus.

School means a new environment of tests, homework, and extracurricular activities, plus additional pollens in the air. Kids with allergies may also find themselves with sneezing, sniffling, and watery eyes.

A host of indoor allergens that reside in a classroom, such as dust, mold, and even pet dander from other kids, can lead children with respiratory allergies to suffer an outbreak of symptoms.

"Schools can certainly have different indoor allergens that kids are being exposed to," says Dr. Lindsey Stoltz Steadman, an allergist/immunologist at Charleston Allergy & Asthma. "No matter how clean we're all trying to be all the time, there are still different exposures at home and school, and that change in environment could cause children to have allergy flare-ups."


Beware of worsening symptoms

It makes sense to see a specialist if your child seems to struggle with constant runny nose, cough, and/or sneezing. Keeping up with allergy treatment is paramount, especially in the fall. 

"If a child has a ragweed allergy, fall is super tough for them," says Dr. Stoltz-Steadman. "When August rolls around, and it's time to start school, they need to be good about taking their allergy medicines or making sure they're remaining compliant with their allergy shots and their regular allergy visits." A cold or other types of viruses typically last 10-14 days, however, allergy symptoms can last for weeks and months.

Parents of school-bound children with allergies need to be aware of their kids' symptoms and ensure they're keeping up with maintenance therapy. If that's not enough to keep symptoms at bay, Dr. Stoltz-Steadman advises considering immunotherapy shots

"If they stick with it during the three- to five-year course they will likely be able to come off of medication," she says. "The allergy relief that immunotherapy achieves is long-lasting. It's the closest thing we have to a cure."

Testing for the shots involves skin tests (the tests are simple, quick and you have results in minutes) and studies have shown that allergies are genetic. If you as a parent have problems with breathing and sneezing, it's likely that your child also inherited the problem. Finding treatment for both of you will help with your quality of life.


Viruses are common in schools 

Schools can be breeding grounds for the type of contagious, common infections that can leave children with a cough and fever, and are typically treated with rest, fluids and over-the-counter medications. Most parents are familiar with these common illnesses. Still, this year, there is the added concern over COVID-19, which is also a respiratory disease and may have similar symptoms to a cold or allergies. While so far, children seem less susceptible to COVID-19, children with asthma or severe allergies may experience worse symptoms, Dr. Stoltz-Steadman says, and have a more difficult time getting over the illness.


Hand-washing and disinfecting 

Avoiding the types of viruses that can make symptoms worse starts with hand-washing and disinfecting surfaces like doorknobs and desktops. These habits are reinforced by the coronavirus pandemic's presence. With the battle against COVID-19 almost certain to continue into the academic year, Dr. Stoltz-Steadman expects schools to implement preventative guidelines that include disinfecting and social distancing.

"If schools do reopen and things start going back to normal for the kids, there are some steps that we can take," she says. "I think schools and teachers are going to have to be a lot more vigilant in keeping kids socially distanced, within reason. Doing things like spreading out desks as best as teachers can, not having little pods and tables that they're sharing, making sure the kids understand that their desk is their space."

There are likely to be other measures, she adds, such where children eat lunch. The new CDC guidelines recommend children eat lunch in their classroom, but that is a significant change from previous guidance that recommended not feeding children in a classroom due to food allergic kids. Also, students are likely to be spending more time in their classrooms to avoid large crowds in hallways, which means they stay longer in the same environment. It will be a new normal in many ways.

Interested in more information on managing your child's allergies? Reach Charleston Allergy & Asthma at (843) 881-2030. You can also request an appointment online, or visit their website at CharlestonAllergy.com.

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