Back-to-school season is a time of change, renewal, and anticipation. Parents may overlook, however, potential health issues facing their children in the classroom and schoolyard.
Increasing numbers of children and adolescents require medications during the school day for chronic medical conditions, including epinephrine injections for severe allergic reactions, rescue inhalers for asthmatics, and glucagon for hypoglycemia.
Other pupils and students may need short-term medications like pain relievers and antihistamines at some point during the year. Add to that the threat of ever-present bacterial and fungal infections (not to mention lice infestations) that are associated with children and enclosed spaces.
Many school systems have reduced the number of school nurses. The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) reports that only 39% of schools nationwide employ full-time nurses, 35% have part-time nurses, and 25% have no nurse. This means the responsibility for dealing with students’ health needs is often shifted to staff members who have little or no medical expertise.
So who can pick up the ball when the school nurse is overworked? Parents and schools do have access to a most accessible healthcare provider—the local community pharmacist—who can help ensure that the school year is a safe and healthy one.
According to Bethanne Brown, PharmD, BCACP, associate professor at the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati, health issues may not always be top of mind with parents during the back-to-school scramble. Pharmacists should try to establish and cultivate relationships with the parents/guardians of school-aged children throughout the year, but particularly during the back-to-school season.
In the run-up to school, Brown advises pharmacists to proactively alert parents and children to the signs and symptoms of common infections and how to prevent them. “If you’re talking about school-age kids, head lice come to mind; be aware of what to look for and how to treat it,” she says.
Kids should also be taught how to cover their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze by directing the airflow into their arm. “It’s been described as the Dracula sneeze—cover your mouth like Dracula would put up his cape,” she says.
Lucas Smith, PharmD, owner of Buena Vista Drug in Colorado, echoes Brown’s advice. He advocates a proactive approach for pharmacists and parents alike that was reinforced by recent experience.
“Two years ago, there was a large outbreak of lice in our public school, and we were struggling to keep RID in stock, or even get it from our wholesalers,” he recalls. “If more parents had been prepared and had it at home, it could have helped stop the outbreak faster.”
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As a Health Mart pharmacist, Smith offers its Children’s Free Vitamin Program for children from ages 2 through 11. He also promotes vaccines for children and their parents. “We’ll ask, ‘Have you had a tetanus shot in a while?’ Or we ask about other vaccines that they might need,” he says.
According to the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy’s publication “The A-B-Cs of Kids and Medication: Re-Schooling Pharmacists and Families for Best Outcomes,” up to 20% of school-aged children suffer from chronic health conditions such as asthma, ADHD, diabetes, or food allergies. Four to six percent of them receive medication for these conditions during a typical school day.
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