Managing chronic illness in collegeSuzanne Shaffer
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.