By Shannon Walker
My senior year of high school, I visited a lot of college dorms looking for the perfect one to help me keep my asthma under control. I started with a basic checklist: Was the dorm new or old? Were people allowed to smoke in or near the dorm? Did the dorm have air conditioning? Were the bathrooms moldy? Who cleaned the bathrooms (and how often)? How many people used each bathroom? Was the dorm room I’d be given dirty, musty or carpeted? Were the mattresses old?
This checklist helped me find the cleanest and newest dorm – as much a priority as academics when it came time to pick a college. My freshman dorm was a nonsmoking building less than five years old with no carpets in the room and no old nasty furniture. My room had its own heating and air conditioning controls; windows that I could choose whether or not to open; and the greatest of all, a bathroom that I only had to share with one roommate. The bathroom was new, clean and mold-free. Yes, I had to clean the bathroom and my dorm room to keep the dust and grime away, but my dorm was almost as trigger-free as my own bedroom at home!
I was able to complete my first year of college with no severe trouble. My roommate was very helpful in keeping the room clean and respected the fact that I couldn’t have the windows open at certain times of the year. She also respected that she couldn’t use perfume or air fresheners. I borrowed friends’ cars to get to my allergy shot appointments, stayed away from designated smoking areas and always followed my asthma management plan. The moment I felt sick, I called my doctor.
College can be such an amazing experience, but it can be ruined if you’re sick all the time or have to go home because your asthma gets out of control. Finding the right dorm helped me stay healthy and have a lot of fun my first year away from home.
Room To Breathe
- Take dust-mite-proof encasements for pillows and mattresses. You may even want to buy your own mattress (check with the college first). Wash encasements and sheets in HOT water (130º F) every week.
- Leave area rugs, curtains and throw pillows – along with hitchhiking dust mites – at the curb.
- Stock up on cleaning supplies – from a Swiffer® for the floor to dust cloths for venetian blinds and desks.
- Get a hygrometer to measure humidity – you may want a dehumidifier for your room to minimize mites and mold.
- Work with your allergist at home to update your asthma or allergy management plan for your new college environment.
- Take your management plan with you to school and show it to roommates, your RA (the Resident Assistant in your dorm) and coaches.
- Ask your allergist to help you find a specialist in your college town. Schedule an appointment with the new doctor to review your management plan and ensure there aren’t any factors you haven’t considered (like lots of dust or rain).
- Visit student health facilities to find where they are and what services they offer; take them a copy of your asthma or allergy management plan.
- Carry your medications wherever you go – on campus and off.
- Refill prescriptions before you leave for school.
- Look for a local pharmacy that can help you with future refills . . . before you run out!
- Teach your roommates how to help you with emergency medications.
- Consider wearing a medical alert tag – new styles make these easier to wear.
- Get your flu shot in the fall and ask your roommates to get one too.
- Post your AsthmaTracker® where you can fill it out each day – and so roommates can find the information in an emergency. (Call AANMA at 800.878.4403 to order your AsthmaTracker®.)
- Meet with the dean of food services to talk about your food allergies and how to stay safe in dining halls. Do they have allergen-free facilities? Menus? How do they avoid cross-contamination?
- Check libraries and classrooms for indoor air quality problems and talk to college administrators if you find problems. AANMA’s Indoor AIRepairTM at Home, School and Play kit and EPA’s Tools for Schools program (www.epa.gov/ iaq/schools) can help improve air quality at school.
First published: The MA Report, August 2006
Updated: February 2009