“Are you ready to go back to school?” Depending on whom you ask — and, maybe, the age of the student — you’ll likely get a different response. Younger kids may squeal with excitement while the teens groan, wishing for an endless summer. With the rise of allergy, both environmental and food, students and parents alike may have an added sense of nervousness.
This nervousness could stem from many different areas. Allergy bullying seems to be a growing theme in the media. Accidental exposure is always a concern in public places. Additionally, there is concern that behaviors due to allergy are mistaken for learning issues in school aged children when allergy goes undiagnosed and untreated.
Different allergies — and complications associated with them — can impact kids in different ways in the classroom. When not correctly diagnosed as allergy, some label these behaviors as ADHD, dyslexia, and a variety of others.
One study looked at the impact of allergic rhinitis in school going children. This study states, “The symptoms of allergic rhinitis like nasal blockade, itching, rhinorrhea, and sneezing cause severe distraction during class hours. Uncontrolled symptoms at night leading to sleep loss and secondary daytime fatigue may also contribute to learning impairment similarly. Apart from absenteeism from the class, even when present during class hours, the child has decreased productivity.” The combination of little sleep due to allergy and pesky symptoms presenting during class can often appear as behavioral or learning issues in children.
With allergy can come embarrassment, decreased productivity, inability to focus, missed class time and poor grades, which is where the “misdiagnosis” can occur. Dr. Mary Morris, Allergychoices Medical Advisor, partner at Allergy Associates of La Crosse and contributing author of the La Crosse Method™ Protocol, says that one way to decipher an allergy from a learning issue is seasonality. “One thing that always clues me in that environmental allergy might be the issue is when there are big fluctuations. So at the beginning of the school year, attention and focus is horrible. Then as the weather gets colder, they do better. Then in the spring, allergies start, and they do much worse again. That’s a clue that it’s not, say, dyslexia. Dyslexia isn’t going to happen seasonally,” she explains.
With environmental allergies come comorbidities, like asthma, eczema and recurring infections. Dr. Morris says, “We see a lot of kids with eczema and that has a significant impact on sleep. If a kid is scratching and scratching, they may be disruptive in the classroom. Certainly asthma can have a large effect on school quality of life because of things like difficulties with physical education and more school absences.”
Treating the cause of the allergy can reduce symptoms from these linked conditions, which can increase productivity, attendance, and overall confidence at school. We advocate customized allergy drops, which are very convenient for school aged kids. Drops can be given anywhere, unlike allergy shots that need to be given in a doctor’s office. Between school, soccer, play practice, piano lessons, we understand the value of time for school aged children and their caregivers.
Dr. Morris explains that food allergies can have a very similar effect to environmental allergies on learning, “We certainly have seen certain food allergies that can impact focus and concentration. There’s not as much literature about that, but it’s something worth mentioning.” If a child is having issues in class, food allergy isn’t typically the first suspected reason. Often, sensitivities to milk or corn, for example, are overlooked as they are common ingredients in many foods. A child with food sensitivity will likely also have issues with sleep, and inability to focus in class, along with typical “allergic” symptoms.
Many parents of students with life threatening food allergies are understandably hesitant about sending their kids to a school where cafeterias and snack areas aren’t always allergy friendly. Dr. Morris says that the best way to ease that anxiety is to treat the cause of the allergy, to allow for a margin of safety when accidentally exposed to the allergen. “I believe we’ve shown quite clearly with our La Crosse Method Protocol that allergy drops can give a margin of safety, so if there is an accidental exposure, the likelihood of a serious reaction happening is much less,” she explains.
Morris tells of one patient’s experience using La Crosse Method Protocol drops to lessen her numerous food allergies. Checkup after checkup, she has been able to tolerate and add a margin of safety for another food. At school, “It was a big deal for her to always be the allergy kid — to always have to sit at the other table, always asking ‘what’s in that?’ She still has a couple of things she can’t eat, but as it becomes three things she can’t eat rather than 20 things she can’t eat, it’s much more manageable,” Dr. Morris explains.
For parents concerned that allergies may be impacting their child’s school experience, Dr. Morris encourages them to speak with their allergy provider to see if testing and treatment could benefit the child. Treating kids early can interrupt the allergic march, or progression to other conditions. For those patients, adding allergy drops to their backpacks could make for a healthier, more productive school year!
Note: Dr. Morris retired from Allergy Associates of La Crosse in 2020