Asthma and Schools

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last Reviewed: May 2016.

Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood.1 In an average classroom of 30 children, three are likely to have asthma.2 Because children spend about six hours a day at school, it is important that teachers and staff know how to handle an asthma attack. Unfortunately, studies show that classroom teachers are generally not trained to treat asthma.3 They are uncomfortable with treating a medical emergency, including asthma.3 School nurses are likely to be well trained in treating asthma, but often are not at the schools full time.

Parents can take the lead in providing the school nurse and teachers with a copy of the child’s Asthma Action Plan. They can be advocates for creating Asthma Friendly Schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has materials to help parents and schools work together to create a safe environment for children with asthma.

How does asthma affect performance at school?

Almost one in two children miss at least one day of school each year due to asthma: that adds up to 10.5 million missed days of school!4 Children miss school for doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, sick days, and fatigue due to nighttime symptoms. Children who wake up just one to three nights per month have more absences and worse school performance.5 Additionally, their parents miss more time from work.

Can my child take asthma medication at school?

This question is important to ask at the beginning of every school year. The laws vary by state and school district. When asthma symptoms flare up, it is important that your child can take rescue medications quickly. Some schools allow children to carry their inhaler if they have a doctor’s note. For other children, an inhaler may be kept in the classroom.

Generally, it is a good idea to schedule daily asthma control medications outside of school time, even if that means the dosing schedule is a little uneven.6

What should be in the asthma action plan?

A copy of your child’s written Asthma Action Plan should be given to the school nurse and classroom teacher.6 The Action Plan should include phone numbers for parents, emergency contacts, and the child’s health care provider. It should have instructions for treating asthma attacks. The instructions should say who to call based on symptoms and peak flow readings. If the child knows how to use a rescue inhaler properly, the health care provider should write a note recommending that the child be allowed to carry and take the medication. The Action Plan should also list the child’s triggers, including exercise.

What triggers are commonly found in schools?

Many triggers found in homes are also found in schools. Schools in humid areas are likely to have dust mites. Mold, pollen, cockroaches, and tobacco smoke can be found in schools. Some classroom pets might trigger asthma for allergic children. Other school-related triggers include chalk dust, diesel fuel from school buses, and cleaning products.

School staff should be aware when children have exercise-induced asthma symptoms. These can flare up during gym class, recess, or sports practice.

How asthma-friendly is my child’s school?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come up with a list of questions to evaluate how Asthma Friendly you child’s school is. The full list is available online, but they are summarized below.2

Asthma-friendly schools checklist

  1. Are the school buildings, grounds buses, athletic fields and events free of tobacco smoke?
  2. Are students allowed to carry and use their own asthma medications, or do they have quick and easy access to medicines?
  3. Does the school have a standing order and rescue medicines available in the event of an emergency or if the students forget his/her medicine?
  4. Do all students with asthma have Asthma Action Plans on file at the school?
  5. Is there a full-time school nurse available to help students with asthma?
  6. Does the school nurse or other asthma experts educate staff and students about helping someone with asthma?
  7. Can students with asthma participate safely and fully in the gym, sports, recess, and field trips? When necessary, can students choose an alternate activity without fear of ridicule or grade penalty?
  8. Does the school have good indoor air quality? Does the school take measures to reduce allergens and irritants in the school?

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