How Clinicians Can Help College-Bound Teens with Allergies

May 4th 2016
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor

College-bound teens with allergies should take steps to ensure that they’re able to manage their condition after they move away from home.

As the current school year draws to a close, many high school seniors are planning for the next chapter of their lives as college freshmen. However, those with allergies should also take steps to ensure that they’re able to manage their condition after they move away from home.

In a recent article published in theAnnals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, author David Stukus, MD, explained that allergic conditions such asfood allergiesand asthma are often neglected during teens’ transition to college.

“Self-management of allergic conditions can be very challenging to newly-independent teens, many of whom are learning to manage their own schedule for the first time,” Dr. Stukus, a member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Public Relations Committee, toldContemporary Clinic. “These teens are finding themselves in a new setting and are often engaging is riskier behaviors, which may make it more difficult for them to avoid triggers and identify symptoms.”

Dr. Stukus encouraged teens with allergies to prepare for college by visiting their allergists before leaving home. At those visits, teens should review their asthma or anaphylaxis action plan, ask for a referral to an allergist close to school, request that their medical record be sent to new allergists, and ensure that all allergy prescriptions—especially emergency inhalers and epinephrine auto-injectors (EAIs)—are filled and up-to-date.

“Teens with food allergies are more likely to do poorly when they do not have access to EAIs,” Dr. Stukus explained. “It’s important that they carry more than one in the event of a particularly severe allergic reaction.

Many students also visit retail clinics for basic check-ups before the start of a new semester, giving clinicians an important, complementary role to play in preparing teens with allergies for college.

In addition to advising patients to visit their allergists, retail clinicians can recommend that they:

  • Contact the school about special accommodation policies and complete any necessary paperwork.
  • Provide their school, resident assistant, and roommate(s) with a list of allergens that need to be avoided.
  • Visit the school’s dining facilities and discuss safe food preparation with the chef.
  • Obtain medical identification jewelry that lists their allergic triggers.
  • Download any apps that might help them manage allergies and asthma.
  • Ask if their residence hall is near a major road or other pollution source, and request a change if it is.
  • Determine whether their dorm has access to replaceable filtration or air conditioning.
  • Get up-to-date on all appropriate immunizations.
  • Keep their rescue inhaler and EAIs with them at all times.

While Dr. Stukus advised students to make these arrangements as soon as possible, he also noted that clinicians should continue to help unprepared students even after they’ve already moved away to college. Given that students may visit a retail clinic during their first semester, clinicians can use these opportunities to not only ask how these patients have been managing their allergies while at school, but also direct them to local allergists and hospitals.

“Clinicians are extremely valuable in helping new students navigate the local health care systems,” Dr. Stukus said. “They also prove essential in keeping students on track to successfully manage their allergic conditions.”

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