Beware the Asthma Spike
With students trooping in and out, spills and occasionally odors, classrooms are difficult venues to allergy-proof. But there are ways to reduce environmental exposures.
Mold Growth: Molds reproduce by sending tiny spores into the air, and these can cause asthma symptoms. Since molds flourish in damp conditions, schools should watch humidity levels, and promptly repair roof or window leaks.
Dust Mites: To keep these microscopic allergens at bay, cleaning staff need to dust and vacuum thoroughly. Carpet should be avoided where possible.
Cleaning Supplies: Look for non-toxic supplies free of formaldehyde, ammonia and other lung-irritating chemicals. Principals should also be mindful of pesticide use.
Pets: You may not keep a cat if your child has asthma, but he or she will be inadvertently exposed to some dander on other pupils’ clothes. A parent can’t control this, but you can ask to stop intentional exposures, such as pets brought in for “show and tell” or rodents kept for a class project. Be sure teachers are aware of pet allergies and of your child’s asthma action plan.
Chalk and Markers: Use low-dusting chalk on blackboards. If using a whiteboard, a school can order low VOC (volatile organic compound) markers.
Crafts and Art: Watch out for materials that irritate or have strong odours, such as glues, solvents, certain paints and varnishes. Also watch for potential food allergens in some crafts (e.g. milk or egg in paint).
Fragrance: With an explosion of asthma, particularly in boys 4 to 11, teachers should be mindful to avoid using strong perfumes and deodorants. High school students can have a heavy hand with the perfume bottle. If it’s an issue, inform the principal.
Ventilation: It needs to be adequate, which isn’t always the case in newer, tightly sealed buildings. The school should routinely check the ventilation system; it should be clean and obstruction-free for free flowing air.
Sources: Health Canada; Environmental Protection Agency; The Lung Association of Canada
First published in Allergic Living magazine. (c) Copyright AGW Publishing Inc.
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