Allercy and Asthma Health
The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Getting Ready for College


by Jakki Grimball, MA, RRT, AE-C, PAMH

High school graduations are over and it is time to prepare for college. Preparation often begins in the summer months with shopping for dorm room accessories, school supplies, and clothes. The summer before college can be a hectic yet exciting time, however, those students with asthma and allergies should remember to create a college health plan, too.

Before you go

Moving away from home into a dorm or apartment can bring new triggers into the picture. Know what triggers your asthma and allergy symptoms, as well as warning signs that may need medical attention. To avoid or eliminate common triggers, don’t forget to buy hypoallergic pillows, pillowcases, and mattress and box spring covers. It is important to keep dorm rooms clean and free from clutter, using plastic bins for storage, and non-scented cleaning supplies are a good idea as well.

Before leaving for college, schedule an appointment with your allergist or primary care doctor to get an updated written asthma management plan, prescriptions for medications, supplies (such as a peak flow meter and spacer), and appropriate immunizations. Immunizations should include the flu, pneumonia, and meningitis vaccines. Ask your doctor to provide refills for medications to make sure you will not run out. If you are getting allergy shots ask your doctor to help make arrangements to continue the allergy shots at school.

If you have the option of selecting your roommate(s) beforehand, and you have specific allergy or asthma triggers they may introduce into the environment, try to exchange information with them. If tobacco and/or cat dander are specific triggers for you, it’s important to ask whether your roommate smokes or has a cat.

Once you’re there

When you arrive on campus, thoroughly clean your dorm room before unpacking and set up the hypoallergenic bedding. Don’t forget to clean spaces that hold dust, such as the heating/air conditioner filters. Take a few minutes to check around your dormitory for any visible signs of mold, excess dust or dander, and insect or rodent droppings.

It is important to meet with your hall advisor, roommate(s), and student health center staff to make everyone aware of your asthma management plan and what to do to help you in an emergency. Ask the student health center staff if it is open 24 hours a day. Can they provide nebulizer treatments or handle an asthma emergency? Also, ask the staff for the location of the nearest hospital or urgent care center.

Keep an asthma diary, including peak flow readings, for about a month to track how you are doing in your new environment. The diary will also help you realize when problems might arise. Have your rescue medications “at the ready” everywhere you go, especially if you participate in sports and exercise regularly. Try to keep one rescue inhaler in your room and one with you when not in your room. If you have serious allergic reactions, always make sure to keep an epinephrine pen with you at all times. Stay away from social events where you know people will be smoking, and do not permit smoking in your room.

You’re the boss now

While away at college, take your asthma and allergies seriously. Even people with well-controlled asthma/allergies can have life-threatening events when exposed to their triggers. Keeping your allergies under control and taking your controller/maintenance medications as prescribed makes it less likely to have problems with asthma. With the right attitude and advanced planning, you can keep asthma and allergies under control. The possibilities are limitless!

Jakki Grimball is a Registered Respiratory Therapist, Certified Asthma Educator (AE-C), and a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care who currently serves as the Asthma/COPD Program administrator at BlueChoice HealthPlan/BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina in Columbia, SC.
Top of Page Back