Spring gets a bad rap in the allergy world-but back-to-school time can be just as sniffle inducing. We asked Paul Ehrlich, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and one of the authors of the new book Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide, to break down why your children's allergies are so much worse in the fall-and what you can do to help them to feel better now.
Those rugs have bugs. If your child's teacher uses rugs for activities or quiet time, beware: The mats have been sitting all summer in a warm, humid classroom, making them a breeding ground for dust mites. If dust is an allergy trigger for your child, talk to the teacher ahead of time to see if it's possible to have the rugs washed before school starts. Or send your child to school with his own blanket to use instead.
There's a class pet in the room. Class pets, particularly guinea pigs, rabbits, and the like, can trigger animal allergies. If your classroom has a furry friend, ask that it be kept in the cage as much as possible, and encourage your child to keep his distance. Antihistamines such as Claritin can also help. Better yet: "Ask the teacher not to have animals in the first place," Ehrlich says.
Recess is getting moldier. While spring and summer's allergen of choice is pollen, autumn often brings an increase in mold spores. Fallen leaves tend to die on wet outdoor surfaces, promoting the growth of mold. Ehrlich says teachers are usually aware of mold problems in the classroom, but it's much harder to control outside-so encourage your child to wipe his feet before coming indoors.
Heating season is upon us. Heating systems are typically turned off in summer, giving them months to accumulate everything from mouse droppings to dust mites. So when the heat's turned back on in a blowing-air system, it essentially blows those allergens to the top of the classroom and lets them rain down onto the children. Proactive parents can ask the school custodian to try to clean those ventilation systems as much as possible; likewise, if the school is heated with radiators, suggest giving them a thorough cleaning with a wet mop.
A classmate has a cat. Chances are, at least one of your child's new classmates has a cat at home. "Cat dander is very sticky and very light, so it travels everywhere," Ehrlich says. So if your cat-allergic daughter hangs her coat in a cubby next to a jacket coated in dander, she'll likely pick some up too. Wipe off coats as best you can when your kid gets home from school, and if you know that she's been playing with a friend who has a cat, encourage her to change clothes immediately.
Classrooms are packed with year-round allergens. Fall or not, the typical classroom is an "allergen supermarket," as Ehrlich puts it in his book, hosting chalk, pesticides, laboratory chemicals, sanitation supplies, perfumes, and even rodents or cockroaches. After a summer away from school, it's important to be aware of these possible triggers.
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