It appears that asthma in some children is being worsened by airborne allergens found in the school environment. Many parents with asthmatic kids go to extremes to ensure that their home has no dust or debris in the home. They also avoid keeping pets, wash their linen regularly, and not have carpets. When they send the kids to school, parents feel that is the last place where asthma could be triggered.
While parents may try and prevent asthmatic attacks at home, there is little they can do once the child is in school- and according to the new study; asthma continues to be a major problem in schools.
It is estimated that nearly 10% of children have asthma and these numbers are increasing rapidly each year. No one knows why asthma rates have increased. While there have been studies on allergens in the home environment, very little is known about the threat that exists in schools.
In a recent study published in JAMA, researchers looked at several hundred students in the North East. Researchers from Boston took samples of dust from the classroom, desks, chairs, and floors and analyzed them for allergens. They noted heavy presence of dog and cat allergens but levels of dust mites and cockroach allergens were very low. Surprisingly none of the airborne allergens were linked to worse asthma outcomes. The only allergen of significance in the study was mice, which showed up in almost 99.5% of the school samples. The concentration of this particular allergen was far higher than what is encountered in the homes.
Other studies from Sweden and Germany have found similar association of worsening of asthma in school children where exposed to cat and dog allergens. Another USA study observed a link between high asthma rates and levels of cockroach allergens in schools.
However, it is the finding of mouse allergen that has gained interest. Researchers state that when the mouse allergen levels are low, the asthma symptoms are low but when the allergen levels are high, then this also leads to worsening of symptoms.
So this study raises some interesting questions. Should the school environments be regularly tested for allergens? Secondly what should the threshold be? Finally is it practical or realistic to implement interventions in schools to reduce allergen levels? And who would pay for getting rid of these allergens? So far no one has the right answer but with the alarming number of children presenting to the emergency room regularly with worsening of their asthmatic symptoms, sooner or later someone will have to address these questions.