FRIDAY, May 16, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Vision and hearing tests are commonly given to students at school, but screening programs for allergies and asthma may soon become routine, too.
In a series of articles in the May issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, researchers report on four school-based pilot screening programs for allergy and asthma. In the programs, conducted in Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, and Rochester, Minn., researchers polled both students and parents with various questionnaires, capturing information on more than 7,600 students.
Next, the researchers hope to develop a model questionnaire by pulling the good features from the four questionnaires used in the pilot studies.
One barrier to screening for asthma and allergy is that schools have not had such a validated questionnaire, says Dr. Robert Miles, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, who chaired a coordinating committee for the pilot projects. "We'll soon have validation," he adds.
The college funded the pilot projects with grants.
The hope is to phase the screening program into schools gradually and to have the program in all schools nationwide within a few years, Miles says. Screenings would probably occur annually.
The questionnaires used in the pilot programs varied, but in general students and parents were asked about any breathing problems, symptoms such as having a runny nose without a cold, having difficulty sleeping because of breathing problems, or having breathing problems after exercising or being out in the cold.
In 2001, 6.3 million Americans under 18 reported having asthma, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. While it is the most common chronic disease among children, the frequency with which it is recognized varies, Dr. Raoul L. Wolf, director of the Chicago pilot project, writes in his report.
"Studies show the sooner you recognize asthma and get it treated, the better the outcome," Miles says. Early diagnosis and treatment is also recommended for allergies.
"Earlier detection of children who might have asthma and allergies would lead to better and earlier management," agrees Wolf, a pediatric allergist at the University of Chicago and LaRabida Children's Hospital.
Children miss about 2 million school days annually due to asthma symptoms, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
In the past few years, Wolf says, people, including parents, have become more knowledgeable about the diseases. "The level of understanding has gone up," he says. The school screenings, he says, will help even more.
For help in how to manage asthma at school, try the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, which also has a page devoted to helping your child take control of his allergies.