Back to school for kids means getting new clothes and supplies, seeing old friends, and hoping the teacher will be "cool." For children with allergies, the fall season, and possibly school itself, can also bring on the arrival of symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, headaches and hives. These children, and their parents, can manage allergies at school with awareness, good planning and communication.
Solve the mystery. Be a detective to find out exactly what may be causing allergies at school. Ask questions and don't jump to conclusions. Talk to the teacher, the school nurse and, if necessary, the food service people.
Inform them of your child's allergies. Discuss any conditions that might be a problem, and try to work out solutions. If your child has never had allergies before and suddenly comes home from school with symptoms, find out what he or she was doing just before the reactions occurred. If it's not a cold, it's probably allergies, especially if someone else in the family has them.
Classroom pets. If your child develops allergy symptoms while at school, consider the classroom pet as a potential cause. Furry animals such as gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs are wriggling balls of allergens for kids who react to animal hair. Children may already know they're allergic to cats and dogs, but they don't think about these other critters.
If the kids and parents get to vote on what pet they want, choose a reptile or fish. Those are fine in a classroom.
Kids can also monitor their own reactions. They shouldn't volunteer to feed the gerbil, and if they touch it, they should wash their hands afterwards. Also, they should choose a desk on the other side of the room from the animal cage.
Field trips. Allergies should not exclude any child from field trips. School officials should know who has a problem and what to do about it. For severely allergic kids, be sure to take along their medications. However, a petting zoo for small children may cause flare-ups because children actually touch the animals.
Homework, tests and friends. A child's allergies should not be an excuse to avoid homework. If a child has an allergy attack, he or she might be crabby and irritable, but that's not an excuse. Someone with a severe case of hives (urticaria) who has been highly medicated with over-the counter antihistamines may get drowsy, but in general, homework, grades and test performance need not suffer.
The same goes for friendships and socializing. If children take their medications, they should be able to do almost anything their friends do. These kids have to live with their allergies and manage them. Otherwise, chronic illness has control over their life instead of the child controlling the illness.