FCAAIA Notes: There are old data showing that poorly controlled allergies have as much impact on school performance as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®).  So do you want your child taking Benadryl before final exams? Allergies also have a great impact on health-related quality of life, work productivity, sleep quality, etc.

If you feel you are “good enough” with your allergies, ask yourself again.  I also recommend you ask yourself, “Should I or could I be even better?”

We can help you achieve your best.

(Source: May 22, 2017)

This is the time of year my kids and I have seasonal allergic rhinitis, better known as hay fever. I’d always thought it was merely a nuisance, but it turns out it also degrades cognitive performance, at least a little.

Hay fever affects at least 10%  of the population, and a higher percentage of children. The most obvious signs of allergic response include sneezing, itching, and a runny nose. These can disrupt sleep, leading to fatigue, and the allergy can cause neurocognitive deficits we may not notice in ourselves or in our children. Medications used to treat the allergy can also induce sleepiness in some patients.

In the United States, school-age children collectively lose about two million school days because of pollen allergies. Even when they attend school, allergy-suffering students may perform a bit worse than their nonallergic counterparts.

Using data from Norway, a recent study shows that when pollen levels rise, students’ test scores fall. The study used data from nearly 70,000 high school exit exams, which Norwegian students must pass to graduate and are used for higher education placement. Students take exams at different locations, and each student takes several at different times of year, providing multiple data points per student.

The study’s author, Simon Bensnes, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, combined these with pollen count data linked to the location and time at which each student took each exam, as well as other demographic and air-quality data used to control for potentially confounding factors.

Pollen counts are measured in grains of pollen per cubic meter of air and can be as high as the 100s at the height of pollen season in Norway. For students allergic to pollen, Mr. Bensnes found that a pollen count increase of 37 — large enough to cause symptoms in highly allergic people — is associated with a drop of about one-tenth of a point in exam scores. The scores range from one (worst performance) to six (best performance).

Does such a seemingly small effect matter in the long run? Other results suggest they do. The study also finds that higher pollen counts correlate with a slightly lower likelihood of enrolling in a university and a lower probability of going into a STEM field. However, though the statistical methods to analyze test scores are rigorous enough to reasonably infer they’re causal, the ones for these longer-term results are less so.

Still, Mr. Bensnes said, “it would be surprising if there were no effects in the longer run.” This is particularly likely in countries where exams are weighed more heavily than in Norway toward entrance to institutions of higher education. There, exams count only for about 15 percent of entrance determinations.

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