Ask Your Pharmacist

August 27, 2020

What advice do you have on how to keep my kids safe when they return to school?


This question is on a lot of parents’ minds. This article contains advice collected through conversations with pharmacists, educators, parents, and local physicians and is up to date at the time of writing it. Best practices will continue to evolve. 

Optimize your child’s symptoms of seasonal allergies, and asthma prior to school starting. Talk with your pharmacist about prescription and non-prescription medications to treat bothersome respiratory symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies. This is important as many of the symptoms (i.e. dry cough, runny nose, sore throat) may be confused for COVID-19, and this could lead to your child missing school until COVID-19 is ruled out. Ask your pharmacist about over-the-counter antihistamine treatment options to control these symptoms (loratadine or ClaritinR, desloratadine or AeriusR, cetirizine or ReactineR). If symptoms persist, make an appointment with your primary care physician or nurse practitioner.

If your child has asthma, now is the time to ensure that their maintenance inhalers (i.e., fluticasone or FloventR) and rescue inhalers (i.e., salbutamol or VentolinR) are refilled. Make sure that you have an Asthma Action Plan established with your primary care physician or nurse practitioner. Your pharmacist can assist implement this plan. 

Immunize against influenza. Flu season is coming. We do not yet have a vaccination against COVID-19, but we do have a vaccine against influenza. It is important for your child to be immunized against influenza. Co-infection with influenza and COVID-19 is likely to lead to worse health outcomes for your child. Symptoms of influenza and COVID-19 are similar and may be difficult to tell apart without testing. Flu shots will likely be available in New Brunswick in early October. When the time comes, book an appointment for immunization at your pharmacy.

Model proper hand hygiene for your children. Whenever possible, cleaning hands with soap and water is the preferred method. Effective handwashing with soap and water is especially important after your child uses the washroom, before eating, after sneezing, coughing, or nose blowing.

At school, and to and from school, washing hands with soap and water may not always be possible. In these situations, hand sanitizers are recommended, especially after touching surfaces, sneezing, or coughing. Ideally, hand sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol.  There have been questions about the safety of using alcohol-based hand sanitizers in young children. The worry is that accidental ingestion of the alcohol-based hand sanitizers may lead to toxicity. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that young children should use alcohol-based hand sanitizer only under the direct supervision of an adult. Watch to ensure that children do not rub their eyes when their hands are wet with sanitizer. You do not need to be concerned if your child eats with their hands or licks their hands after using hand sanitizer, as long as their hands are dry. Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers approved by Public Health will be available to schools.

Teach your children good respiratory hygiene practices for school and elsewhere, like covering a cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throwing away the tissue into a closed bin, and not touching their eyes, mouths or noses if they haven’t properly washed their hands.

Back to school supplies: Follow the advice provided in the New Brunswick Return to School Guide for Parents and the Public September 2020. Students are expected to bring a clean mask to school with them daily. Buy extra masks or disposable back-ups in case you forget to wash them. Masks are available at most pharmacies. It is also a good idea to invest in a thermometer that works. 

Stay informed. Make it part of your daily routine to read e-mails and memos from your child’s school to keep up with current recommended practices.

New Brunswick pharmacists are prepared to help as you ready your families for back to school. We will do our best to advise you about determining whether your child’s symptoms are related to seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis, or cough and cold, influenza, or COVID-19.   When in doubt we will encourage you to make use of 8-1-1, or put you in contact with your primary care physician or nurse practitioner.

Dr. Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Sharp’s Corner Drugstore in Sussex, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to