In a few weeks, my middle son heads back to college in Massachusetts for his sophomore year. He didn’t have allergies growing up, but this summer he’s definitely suffering from a runny nose and itchy eyes. He’s going to see his doctor about it; meanwhile I find myself thinking about his college bedding stored in boxes in the residence hall and wondering how clean and comfortable it will be when he unpacks it. Do we need to make some changes?
As students transition from home to campus, they take their allergies with them. Some students moving to a new part of the country may develop allergies for the first time.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Neeta Ogden, board-certified asthma and allergy specialist. Here are some good things to know as you prepare to help your new or returning college student with allergies (or even without!) move into the dorm this fall.
Q: Dr. Ogden, what are some of the allergens in typical college residence halls that students (and parents) should consider before move-in?
A: Students should be thinking about the physical space of their dorm room and what allergens may exist in the region where they are going to college. In terms of physical space, some things to think about include:
- Carpet:If the dorm has carpet, it will definitely be a source of dust mite exposure. Consider bringing or buying a hand-held vacuum with a HEPA filter.
- Mattresses: Especially old dorm ones are a big source for dust mites. Be sure to purchase allergen barrier mattress protectors that are six-sided to fully encase your student’s mattress. I recommend AllerEase Maximum Mattress and Pillow Protectors.
- Air Purifier:If the college is in a place where typical fall and spring pollen surges, or if your student isn’t familiar with a future roommate’s perfume usage or other allergy triggers, purchase an air purifier to help diminish those ambient triggers.
- Humidifier:Many residence halls have old-fashioned heating systems that can lead to very dry air, especially in the winter. Think about a cool mist humidifier (especially if nasal congestion is a predominant symptom for your student) to keep your nasal passages moisturized.
Q: What should families be looking for as they shop for dorm bedding and towels?
A: Be sure to invest in allergen barrier mattress and pillow protectors to diminish dust mite exposure. Towels should be cotton and, to minimize allergens, be washed in hot water weekly. Bedding should be washed in hot water weekly as well.
Q: What kind of cleaning should happen on move-in day? Do you recommend certain products for kids to keep on hand?
A: Yes, first clean the room with a vacuum with a HEPA filter, then mop the floors and wipe down all surfaces. I like Lysol bleach wipes because they also kill bacteria, but the bleach can be caustic for allergy sufferers, so damp cloth in a mix of hot water and vinegar works just as well. If the person who is allergic to dust mites is also doing the cleaning, make sure to wear gloves and a mask.
Q: Are there things students do lifestyle-wise that make allergen exposure worse?
A: Being careless about exposure makes allergies worse — playing ultimate frisbee on a high pollen day, keeping windows wide open, not stocking up on medications for emergencies, or not being prepared and taking them in advance. Smoking can also exacerbate allergies and asthma, and not getting enough sleep can make all of it worse as well. Staying hydrated is important, because dehydration can cause the mucous membranes to become dry and then all symptoms tend to become worse.
Q: What kinds of advice can parents give their students to help them create healthier dorm environments and stay healthy into cold/flu season?
A: Always wash your hands properly with a good 30 second lather, utilize hand sanitizer when you’re on the go, and be sure to wipe down all common surfaces in your room with cleaning wipes. Also, get a proper night’s sleep, stay hydrated, and eat well.
Q: How can students keep their rooms from getting too stuffy in the winter when they can’t open windows? How about allergens coming in windows during warmer months?
A: It’s important to keep windows closed during peak pollen seasons — that includes the late summer and fall when many kids are starting college. If this is difficult, an air purifier with a HEPA filter is essential. Also, using a cool mist humidifier and a daily nasal saline spray can help keep nasal passages moist and combat symptoms.
Q: What’s the best way for students to store bedding over the summer if they live at a distance and can’t bring it home? Will bedding last for four years? How about towels?
A: Store bedding in a vacuum-sealed container so that no ambient allergens or moisture can settle in the bedding. While bedding can last for up to four years, if you are washing items in hot water every week, they may deteriorate more quickly. Investing in higher quality sheets is one way to ensure they last longer.