Asthma and school: Take a team approach

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Asthma and school: Take a team approach

Asthma: Work with your child's school to manage asthma and prevent attacks.

Asthma is the leading cause of school absences in the U.S., accounting for more than 14 million missed school days each year, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. An asthma attack at school can be frightening for your child. Close communication with your child's school is essential in preventing and treating an asthma attack.

You can help keep your child from missing important school lessons and interactions with classmates by working with teachers and school personnel to be part of an asthma management team. Together, the members of the team can be sure your child's asthma will be kept under control.

Develop an asthma action plan

Work with your child's doctor to write an asthma action plan with step-by-step instructions to prevent and treat an asthma attack. Ask the doctor to help you personalize the plan for your child. Your child's asthma action plan is a crucial part of controlling and monitoring asthma symptoms while your child is in school. It can help you work closely with school personnel in two key ways:

Prevent an attack

  • Help manage your child's medications.
  • Identify asthma triggers and reduce your child's exposure.
  • Take action based on symptoms and peak flow readings.

Manage an attack

  • Recognize an asthma attack.
  • Give quick-relief medications.
  • Seek emergency care.
  • Access contact information.

Build an asthma action team

Share your asthma action plan with all the adults who regularly interact with your child at school. Your asthma action team might include:

  • School nurses
  • Teachers, including music, art and physical education teachers
  • Administrators, such as the school principal
  • After-school caregivers
  • Playground staff
  • Bus drivers
  • Cafeteria staff

Each of your team members needs to know about your child's asthma and how best to help keep your child's symptoms under control. Meet with the members of this team early in the school year to:

  • Describe any medications your child takes, including how and when to use a peak flow meter
  • Discuss how medications are given and any possible side effects
  • Explain how your child can manage an asthma attack
  • Encourage teachers to treat your child the same as other students, without drawing attention to his or her condition
  • Discuss activities that may bring on symptoms, such as sports, gym class or field trips, and the limitations your child may have

Discuss medications at school

Talk with your asthma action team about how and when your child should take medicine at school. If your child feels self-conscious, try to arrange for him or her to take medication in a private area, without disruption or attention.

If your child is comfortable and his or her doctor approves, request that he or she be able to carry and use a metered dose inhaler without having to ask permission each time. The goal is to help your child feel comfortable about having asthma and taking medication.

Monitor the school environment

Look around your child's school for triggers that might set off an asthma attack. If asthma triggers can't be reduced or eliminated, you might be able to switch your child's homeroom to one that can be more accommodating. Pay attention to:

  • Air quality and ventilation. Cigarette smoke and certain chemicals in the air can trigger asthma. Is your school free of tobacco smoke? Can the school reduce or eliminate allergens and irritants such as dust, pollen and freshly cut grass? Are chemistry and art classrooms well ventilated, so chemical vapors don't spread to the rest of the building?
  • Classroom pets. Animal fur and dander are common allergens that can trigger an asthma attack. If pets are kept in classrooms, they may worsen asthma. But even having animals elsewhere in the school can trigger your child's asthma. Air circulation systems can spread animal dander to other parts of the building.
  • Cleanliness. Dust can trigger allergies in some children. Are classrooms cleaned, dusted and vacuumed regularly? Is dust-free chalk used? Are storage areas kept free of dust? Are cleaning products used appropriately? Strong odors and chemicals in cleaning supplies can trigger asthma. Ask the school to use unscented and nonaerosol cleaners whenever possible.
  • Moisture. Moisture can lead to mold, which can trigger asthma symptoms in some children. Are windows and interior surfaces free of condensation? Are classroom sinks and bathrooms free of leaks? Is standing water present in locker room showers? Is air conditioning used to keep the relative humidity in the school at 50 percent or below?

Stay in touch

Communicate with your asthma action team on a regular basis. Keep them informed of:

  • Changes in your child's asthma symptoms or overall condition
  • Medication changes
  • Revisions to your child's asthma action plan, including your contact information
  • Recent asthma flare-ups or attacks
  • Specific times when asthma triggers may be a greater risk to your child, such as changes in the seasons or during times of increased anxiety or stress

Be proactive in managing your child's asthma at school. A team approach is key to keeping his or her asthma under control.

Monitor + control = prevention

It's important that your child's asthma be closely monitored to reduce his or her risk of an asthma attack at school. Make sure your child takes his or her asthma medications on a daily basis to control asthma symptoms. Regularly check his or her peak flow rates to help you and your child feel confident that his or her asthma is well controlled. Watch for peak flow rates that are abnormal or unstable — often an early sign that an asthma attack may be developing. Follow these steps to help prevent asthma attacks — at home and at school.

Last Updated: 08/15/2006
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