Going away to college for the first time can be nerve-wracking, not only for the parents but also the student. In addition to the routine questions like: How will I find my way around? Will my classes be too hard? What will the other students be like? Students who suffer from allergies and asthma may also be asking: How can I keep my symptoms under control?
A different sort of preparation has to take place for those with allergies and asthma going away to school. They need to consider dorm food, dorm environment, and perhaps a new climate if they’re moving to a different part of the country.
Following are tips from the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) to help college students stay safe, have fun – and enjoy a new learning experience!
Start prepping well before you leave – If Mom and Dad have been handling allergist appointments or picking up your prescriptions, it’s time for you – the almost-freshman – to take over. Taking responsibility for your healthcare needs before you go is an important transition step. Figure out what’s involved in keeping yourself healthy and what triggers to avoid. Contact the school’s Student Health Center if special provisions are needed, and make sure they have any documentation needed to provide special services. If you are receiving allergy injections, find out if the Student Health Center can administer your allergy immunotherapy while you are at school.
Study up on what’s available on campus! – Find out what the campus health service provides before you arrive. Can they fill your prescriptions, and do they understand the nature of your symptoms and triggers? Ask if they offer nebulizer treatments or can transport students to a nearby hospital or urgent care facility. If you use a peak flow meter, bring it with you, along with spacers and an adequate supply of up-to-date prescription medications. If you carry an epinephrine auto-injector, make sure you have at least two on hand.
Cleaning while at college? – Contrary to popular belief, you may have to clean while at college – especially if you’re allergic to mold or dust. Take the cleaning supplies you know work for you. Remember your allergy-proof pillow and mattress encasings to decrease your exposure to dust mites. Carry and store your belongings in airtight plastic containers to cut down on dust, and keep dorm windows closed to prevent pollen and dust from entering.
Food, glorious food – College dorm food can be dangerous if you have food allergies. Your school should have special accommodations for students with food allergies. Look into how the cafeterias confirm the ingredients in the food they serve. When you arrive on campus, meet with staff (especially food service personnel and residence hall advisors) to develop a plan to control your allergies.
Let others be part of your team – Tell your roommate and friends about your allergies, how to recognize a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, and where you keep your epinephrine injector device. They should also be aware of what foods and triggers you have to avoid, to help keep you safe.
These may seem like daunting hurdles to overcome. However, with a little planning, young adults can successfully transition from high school to college, and the same time, take a more active role in managing their health.
We are happy to assist with your college preparation. Please make an appointment with one of our Allergy Health Care Providers to obtain the documentation required to continue your immunotherapy treatment, obtain extra supplies of medications, and copies of your prescriptions.
Taking control of your health and being prepared for emergencies will help you manage your allergies and asthma and give both you and your parents some peace-of-mind during this significant transition.