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Asthma on Campus

College has extra challenges for the student with asthma. New and unfamiliar living quarters, school and social stresses, and other factors can trigger flare-ups. As always, prevention is important: Do your best to avoid triggers and to stay healthy. Update your asthma action plan, including how to deal with emergencies. These tips can help.

Your new space

Before you leave for college, review your triggers with your allergist, pulmonologist, or primary care provider. Then review this list to see what adjustments you may need to make to your living area:

  • If your dorm has an old heating or cooling system, buy vent filters. Or, if your budget allows, a HEPA air cleaner. Change the filter often.

  • Try to avoid rooms with forced hot air heating.

  • If mold is present or you have a roommate who smokes, ask about changing rooms. A note from your provider may help you avoid a room-change or other fees.

  • Request a room without wall-to-wall carpeting.

  • Don’t use secondhand rugs or upholstered furniture in your room.

  • Cover your mattress and pillows with allergy-free covers.

  • Wash linens weekly with hot water. Clean all surfaces, including the floor, every week.  If your roommates won’t help you clean, offer to do it in exchange for another favor.

Avoid flare-ups

Staying away from asthma triggers is one part of asthma-management. Another is staying healthy.

  • Ask your health care provider which vaccines you need. People with asthma need annual flu vaccines and also get vaccines for meningitis and hepatitis B. Check with your student health center about low-cost options.

  • Wash your hands often. Or use hand cleaners or sanitizers.

  • Eat balanced meals, get regular exercise, and get plenty of sleep. These can help you stay healthy. And avoid all-nighters; the stress on your body can increase the risk of an asthma flare-up.

  • If you’re sick, take care of yourself. You may feel as though you’re missing out, but you’ll miss more if you end up with a serious asthma flare-up. Check with your professors and administrators about attendance policies and tell them about any special needs you have.

  • If college pressures, social challenges, or other stressors get to be too much for you to handle, look into student counseling services. They are often free or available at a reduced fee.

Managing your asthma

Here are other things that can help you manage your asthma:

  • Make sure you get answers to any questions you have about your asthma action plan. Make sure it's up-to-date and that you have copies with you.

  • Try to avoid triggers. Many young people on college campuses smoke. Try to stay away from smoking areas.

  • Take your controller medications every day or as instructed by your provider.

  • Watch for early signs of worsening asthma. Or if you use a peak flow meter, check your peak flow as instructed. If you notice changes, use your quick relief medication.

  • If you use quick-relief medication to prevent exercise or physical activity from triggering symptoms, remember to use it. Keep an inhaler in your purse or back pack.

  • Make sure your roommates, friends, and dorm leaders know what to do if you develop symptoms. Know how to get emergency help.

  • Make sure you are familiar with the campus health system. And, ask your current health care provider if you should find an asthma specialist on or near campus.