Children across the country are gearing up to head back to school, but millions of them will need to manage asthma and allergies along with homework assignments and soccer practice. This time of year, the mix of pollens and mold spores in the air, coupled with allergens and viruses that build up inside the school, is prime time for asthma and allergy attacks.

Asthma, which can be triggered by allergies and respiratory illnesses, causes nearly a 50 percent increase in emergency room visits among children during the season. It’s also the number one reason why students chronically miss school. This year, it’s more important than ever to keep your child’s lungs healthy because the novel H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, invades deeper into the lungs and sickens children more than the regular flu. Kids with asthma may be especially vulnerable.

What should parents do to make sure their kids breathe easier this school year? We asked representatives of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology(ACAAI), and they suggest taking these 5 steps:

child doctor allergist

1. Schedule a back-to-school checkup

Visit your allergist to be sure your child’s allergy and asthma symptoms are under control. If your child suffers form allergies but has never seen an allergist, before school starts is the perfect time to schedule an appointment to find out what triggers his or her symptoms and develop a plan for treatment.

child blowing nose in classroom

2. Share your treatment plan

The school staff should have a copy of your child’s treatment plan, which should include a list of substances that trigger your child’s allergies or asthma, a list of medications the child takes, and a list of those to contact in an emergency.

parent teacher conference

3. Meet with the school nurse, teachers, and coaches

All caregivers who supervise your child during the school day should have a copy of the treatment plan, and you should meet with them to discuss how they can help control your child’s symptoms. Signs of irritability, an inability to concentrate, or temper tantrums may be signs that your child is having symptoms of asthma or allergies. Ask school staff to tell you when and where the symptoms worsen, so you can work with the doctor to adjust the treatment plan accordingly.

child asthma inhaler

4. Discuss how to handle emergencies

With an allergist’s recommendation, children should be permitted to keep inhaled medications with them at school, and most states have laws protecting this right. Children who are at risk for a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) also should have an epinephrine kit to prevent the dangerous reaction that may be caused by allergies to certain foods or insect stings. Be sure that your child knows, as do school staff, how to use emergency medications. Complete a permission form that allows school staff to administer medications if needed.

kids classroom

5. Make sure your child understands the triggers

Discuss steps to avoid triggers while at school, like sitting far from the blackboard if chalk dust triggers asthma.