» Indoor Health Matters

Headaches, Asthma, Nausea: Is It Something in Your School’s Air?

Posted by Ivey on August 7th, 2012

Teacher in Classroom with StudentsIt seems like it just began and already the 2012 summer season is quickly coming to a close, which can only mean one thing for many parents, teachers, and kids. It’s time to head back to school. While students worry about first impressions, parents race around to secure the necessary school supplies, and teachers get their curriculum in order, there may be unseen dangers lurking in schools.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollution levels can be two to five times higher than outdoor areas. The EPA also points out that approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population spends their days indoors in elementary, middle, and high schools. USA TODAY notes that thresholds for chemical exposure are typically based on results from adults exposure. As a result, little is known or can be accurately predicted about child and adolescent exposure to airborne chemicals. This is significant since children can be more vulnerable to the effects of chemical exposure due to a variety of factors, including still-growing bodies and their inability to properly protect themselves from exposure to environmental hazards.

Promoting healthy indoor air within schools does more than protect students. It also creates a better environment for school faculty and staff, who are at risk themselves from the harmful effects of indoor air pollution. This can include headaches, nausea, sinus congestion, great risk for asthma, and more.

Here are a few tips to help teachers and parents make sure that schools are healthy, productive environments for children to learn.

Teachers, you are part of the first line of defense when it comes to improving indoor air quality in schools. Here are a few suggestions to create healthier classrooms and ensure that education does not take a backseat to dust, mold, and other airborne irritants.

  • Remove clutter blocking HVAC air ducts. While storage space in classrooms can be limited, make sure that your books, bookshelves, cubby holes, media carts, and other classroom furniture and storage containers aren’t preventing proper airflow.
  • Clean the classroom regularly. Many unassuming objects in your classroom can house dust, allergens, and other airborne irritants. While it is best to keep upholstered items like stuffed animals and pillows out of the classroom altogether, this isn’t always possible. Along with desks, books, computers, and storage containers, monitor these items to make sure that they are being regularly and properly cleaned.
  • Students Hold Classroom Pet

  • Control animal dander. A classroom pet is certainly fun for education and even makes the classroom more inviting. Unfortunately, these classroom guests often carry dander that can add to indoor air pollution and even trigger allergic symptoms in some of your students. While the best plan of action is to avoid classroom pets altogether, this is not always possible. If a classroom animal is necessary, the cage should be properly cleaned daily, and students with sensitivities should be given the opportunity to sit away from the animal to avoid allergy flare-ups.
  • Do not store food and snacks in the classroom. Let’s face it, you’re busy, and often, it’s just easier and more convenient to eat at your desk. Keeping food, especially perishable items, in the classroom can attract pests. Use break rooms and the cafeteria to prepare and dispose your food.
  • Report water damage immediately. Water damage can be an indicator of leaks as well as issues with the school’s HVAC system. Even more, it promotes mold growth. Signs of water damage or excess humidity should be reported immediately to the school’s building services or administration.
  • Reduce the use of perfumes, colognes, and air fresheners in the classroom. Although air fresheners, perfumes, and other fragrance products seem harmless, they could contain “hidden” chemicals since the fragrance industry is still unregulated. Some of these chemicals can cause adverse side effects, such as headaches, nausea, and even skin irritations, in adults and children – and not just those with chemical sensitivities. Avoiding fragrances and air fresheners in your classroom not only reduces exposure to unknown chemicals, it also decreases the likelihood that these scents could be masking a larger air quality issue, like mold growth.

Child Walking into SchoolBy becoming an advocate for healthy indoor air, you can partner with teachers and school administrators to make sure that your child has access to a healthy indoor environment, even away from home.

  • Observe the school’s interior. Parent-teacher nights and school open houses are great for meeting fellow parents as well as to discuss any achievements or concerns with your child’s teacher. In addition, these events are a great opportunity to make sure that the school’s interior is up to par. Are odd smells present? Are water stains visible? Do classrooms look dusty or cluttered? Is there a large amount of carpeting in the building? Any of these can be indicators of compromised air quality and should be brought to the attention of the school administration and teachers.
  • Monitor your child’s health. Does your child seem to have health issues only at school? While some may relate issues such as dizziness, headaches, and nausea to other causes, keep in mind that children spend a significant amount of time within their schools walls. If the issues persist without an indicator of the cause, contact school health officials regarding the possibility of environmentally-triggered symptoms.
  • Lobby for chemical-free cleaning options. Chemicals and fragrances in many cleaning solutions can introduce airborne irritants. Chemical-free cleaning options, such as steam cleaning, can help reduce the amount of irritants in the school’s air.
  • Discuss concerns with school administration, health professionals, and teachers. Don’t wait for a health issue to present itself. Talk to school officials about precautions being taken to ensure the health of the building, as well as renovations and scheduled repairs. Ask about health professionals’ training with signs and symptoms of indoor air quality issues. Make teachers aware if your child has chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, or respiratory issues.

As more children are diagnosed each year with asthma—the most common chronic illness among children according to the American Lung Association—educators and parents nationwide are recognizing the need for improved indoor air quality. Using these tips and working with administration, parents and teachers can help develop schools that promote not only education but healthy living as well.

Visit our Learning Center to find articles, FAQs, buying guides, and even more resources to improve your indoor air quality.

Do you have tips for maintaining a healthy indoor air quality in classrooms? Share your ideas in the comments section below!

3 Responses to “Headaches, Asthma, Nausea: Is It Something in Your School’s Air?”

  1. Jenna W. Says:

    Thanks for these tips. One question… does anyone have experience lobbying to have schools use testing products to measure allergens in the air? I’m curious as to how hard it would be to convince administrators to implement this, or whether any readers have had experience doing so.

  2. Chris B Says:

    It seems that everyone would agree that the physical well-being of children we entrust to schools should be of paramount importance. But evidently the concept of ‘safety’ needs to be more comprehensive than a “No Weapons” policy. Cleanliness including clean air is even a more basic necessity.

  3. Cynthia J. Vazquez Says:

    Thanks for writing on this key topic!Indoor air quality is very important in schools.Kids are very vulnerable to the infections caused by dust and other micro particles. So Clean air is a basic necessity.

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