The beginning of fall means cooler temperatures, football games, and children going back to school. Unfortunately, this time of year is also particularly difficult for those suffering with allergies and asthma. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), allergies and asthma account for more than 14 million school day absences annually. The back-to-school season is also associated with a 46 percent increase in asthma-related emergency department visits by grade school children. School children with asthma and allergies face challenges not experienced by their classmates, and parents are charged with helping these children identify potential triggers for these conditions.
According to Dr. Lee Perry, a board certified adult/pediatric allergist at the Chattanooga Allergy Clinic, Chattanooga was recently ranked the 5th worst city in America for asthma sufferers. These rankings, performed by the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, were based on several factors including pollen counts, medication utilization, air pollution and ozone levels. “Children returning to school are at increased risk of infections and cold viruses, which are the most common trigger for asthma attacks, ” says Dr. Perry. “Other potential exacerbants include ragweed allergy (hay fever) and exercise.” Dr. Perry says that avoiding germs at school is nearly impossible, but parents should make sure their children get a seasonal flu shot. “It is also important to teach your child how to properly wash his or her hands with soap and hand sanitizers, which can prevent the spread of infection,” says Dr. Perry.
Dr. Perry states that over 80% of asthmatics experience exercise-induced symptoms. “If your child has difficulty breathing during or after exercise, see a board-certified allergist who can help you develop a treatment plan,” says Dr. Perry. “Also, be sure to make sure teachers are aware of your child’s condition so that medications can be available at school.”
In addition to being a challenging city for asthmatics, Dr. Perry says Chattanooga has annually been among the worst cities in the country for people with fall allergies. Ragweed is the most common fall-specific seasonal allergen, as well as other weed pollens. Other common allergy-related triggers include perennial allergens such as dust mites and pet dander. “These allergens can lead to asthma symptoms as well as allergy symptoms such as runny nose, nasal congestion, sneeze, itchy and watery eyes, and sinus infections,” says Dr. Perry. “If you or your children experience these symptoms during the fall, I would recommend allergy skin testing to help determine which allergens are the culprit(s).” Treatment for such allergies include over the counter antihistamines, prescription nasal sprays, and allergy shots. “The medicines we use are somewhat effective in controlling allergy symptoms—however, allergy shots are the only available cure,” says Dr. Perry. According to Dr. Perry, the goal of allergy shots is to eliminate allergies and decrease the need for medications.
Food allergies are another common concern for both parents and students at the beginning of the school year. The most common food allergies are associated with peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy and seafood. “School officials should be made aware of your child’s food allergies, and proper avoidance measures should be taken,” says Dr. Perry. “For most food allergies, it is wise to have emergency medications available at the school as well.” According to Dr. Perry, these medications might include antihistamines (such as Benadryl) and injectable epinephrine (EpiPen).