Asthma and Allergies Go to College
Last year, in an article for Allergy & Asthma Today magazine, Andrea Holka wrote about her son Zach’s transition to college at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Neb., and her feelings of “letting go” as Zach began a new chapter in his life. This year, Zach, who has asthma and an egg allergy, discusses how he manages his condition.
By Zach Holka
I’ve lived on campus at Nebraska Wesleyan for a year now and I’ve really enjoyed college life. My asthma is well controlled – I take my anti-inflammatory medication every day to help keep my symptoms in check – and I haven’t had any flare-ups. I’ve embraced living away from home and managing my own health.
It’s funny, when I was in high school my mom always had to remind me to take my medication, but now that I’m on my own, I have to remind myself to take it. If I ever forget, I can definitely feel a difference in my breathing, so I know how important the medication is to my well-being.
As soon as I arrived at Nebraska Wesleyan for my first semester last fall, I decided to be open and up front about my asthma and food allergy.
I told my new roommate and my friends so that they understood why I have my inhaler, why I have an epinephrine auto-injector, when I need to use my medications, and what to do in case of an emergency. I spoke with the head chef of the student cafeteria about my egg allergy before the semester.
I’m on the track team, and before the season started I talked with the coaches and athletic trainers about my asthma. The athletic trainers said they would keep an extra bronchodilator inhaler close by during practices and meets, and they would let me sit out if I ever had difficulty breathing.
Managing my food allergy on campus is trickier, though. I’ve turned down food offered to me because I’m uncertain if it contains uncooked egg. (I can tolerate baked foods with egg, but not scrambled eggs or raw eggs used in mayonnaise or cookie dough.) Whenever there’s doubt, it’s best to take the safe route and not eat it at all.
Looking back at my freshman year, I feel I managed my asthma and allergy well. By being open and up front about my asthma and allergies, it’s not a big deal. I feel like I’m part of a big family. That’s what I enjoy the most about Nebraska Wesleyan.
Tips For Campus Life
Hey, high school juniors and seniors: Touring college campuses this fall? Zach Holka shares his checklist of what to ask if you have asthma or food allergies.
Home Sweet Dorm: Look closely at how well maintained dorm rooms are and whether they are clean. Is there a lot of dust? Check ventilation to make sure there’s good airflow and confirm there are nonsmoking dorms available.
Is the Nurse In? Find out if the college has a student health center – a big plus if yes – and if it’s staffed 24 hours a day. Do they offer nebulizer treatments?
Campus Dining: Ask if the student cafeteria will make accommodations for food allergies and if they have epinephrine auto-injectors readily available. Is a list of ingredients for each meal available?
This Sporting Life: If you play athletics, talk with the coaches and athletic trainers and find out if they’re trained to help students with asthma. Make sure you give them a copy of your Asthma Action Plan and a backup supply of medication.
‘Letting Go’ – One Year Later
By Andrea Holka
I have seen Zach grow so much in the last year. He has really stepped up and managed his asthma and egg allergy on his own at college.
I still worry – what mom wouldn’t? – and I probably call him too much, but I know he has a great support system. Nebraska Wesleyan has a student health clinic that has a nurse on call overnight and on weekends, a big reason why I was thrilled Zach chose to go there. Since the college is just a half-hour away from home, he can still see his regular doctor.
Last winter, Zach told me he was fighting a cold – a big asthma trigger – so I was immediately all over him about his peak flows. His peak flow meter was here at home. But he had gone to the health clinic and was taking medication, so I backed off and let Zach handle it. He did fine.
I recently had an interesting conversation with Zach. I didn’t realize how much he truly pays attention to his egg allergy and avoiding foods that may contain uncooked eggs. He is much more careful than I ever knew!
When Zach travels to a track meet out of state, I worry a little more than usual. So I’m still working on “letting go,” but as a mom, I think I’ll always be working on it, to some extent!
Andrea Holka is Executive Director of AIRE Nebraska (Asthma/Anaphylaxis Intervention, Resources & Education) and serves on Allergy & Asthma Network’s Editorial Board.