“There are many arrangements to be made as you head off to college for the first time, and your allergies and asthma should not be put on the back burner,” says allergist J. Allen Meadows, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “It’s important to start managing your health issues well before you leave for school, because there are many details to nail down to ensure you stay well as you study.”
As many students will head to campus while COVID-19 is still a concern, it’s especially important that they stay healthy and have a good plan to manage their allergies and asthma.
Following are six tips from ACAAI to help you determine how best to manage allergy and asthma symptoms in a new environment.
- Coordinate with your allergist – Meet with your allergist several weeks or months before school starts. If you’re going away, one of the things you’ll need to request is a referral to an allergist close to your school if it’s a long distance from where you currently live. Find out if your prescriptions need to be updated or changed. Other questions you’ll want to consider include whether you’ll be in a different climate and if that will affect your symptoms. ACAAI has an allergist locator that can help you in your search to find an allergist in your new town.
- If you’re old enough to go away to college… – Whether away from home or not, you’re probably old enough to handle many of the details surrounding your healthcare. Work with your parents to determine how your health insurance works and who your providers might be. Your college could have a plan if you’re not already covered. Do you know where to go for urgent health care? Find out now so you’re not desperately searching in an emergency.
- Become your own advocate – It’s time for you to start taking on the role of primary point person for your own health issues, particularly if one or both of your parents have been handling those duties. You’ll need to oversee figuring out where to pick up prescriptions and order refills. You’ll also need to be responsible for letting people around you know if there are allergic triggers – food or otherwise – that you need to steer clear of. Discuss your allergies or asthma with roommates, friends, your resident advisor, and anyone else living nearby to let them know what you must avoid and how to help you if you do have an allergic reaction or asthma flare.
- Dorm rooms are supposed to be dirty, right? – Not so much. Turns out that cleaning your room can help you avoid allergens like dust and mold. Use products like sheet covers and air filters to keep allergens away from your nose and eyes. Find out if your residence hall is near a major road as pollutants might affect your asthma. You might also ask if you’ll have direct access to replaceable filtration if your dorm room has forced air heat. Finally, find out if your dorm has air conditioning. Some schools will provide this to students with a medical need even if it is not standard. Open dorm windows can expose you to more pollen.
- You can’t survive on pizza – Whether your dorm has first-rate food options or less-than-stellar choices, it’s important that, at minimum, the food is safe for you to eat. If you have food allergies, notify school officials as they should have special accommodations for students with food allergies. Talk to food handlers about safety standards and ask about ingredients at every meal.
- If you’re impaired, you’re not aware – Anything that impairs your judgment – be it drugs, alcohol, or lack of sleep — means you’ll be less aware of your risk for accidental exposure to foods that may cause anaphylaxis. You should also recognize there are risks associated with intimacy, and the potential for partners to transfer food allergens through saliva. Discussions surrounding drugs, alcohol and sexual activity can be difficult, but your allergist might be a place to start if you’re looking for resources on these topics.