As summer sizzles by, families across the nation are prepping for a new school year. A new school environment can sometimes be difficult for children with asthma. This back-to-school season, the American Lung Association highlights tips for families of children with asthma and stresses the importance of crafting a plan to properly manage asthma in a school environment.
“Before shopping for back-to-school supplies, parents of students with asthma should first consider their child’s health for the time that they spend under the supervision of school personnel and in the school environment,” said Norman H. Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. “They should work closely with their health care provider and school personnel to put a plan in place for good asthma control in the classroom.”
Affecting close to seven million children under the age of 18-including more than 147,000 in Kentucky alone-asthma is one of the most common chronic childhood disorders in the nation. It is also one of the primary illness-related reasons that students miss school, accounting for more than 10 million lost school days each year.
Asthma is the third-leading cause of hospitalization for children under 15. In 2011, one-third of people with asthma experienced at least one episode, or attack-with children 39 percent more likely than adults to have an asthma episode.
The onset of a new school year also marks the beginning of the cold and flu season. Influenza poses a special health risk to children with asthma, as these children often experience more severe symptoms. The American Lung Association strongly recommends that all children-especially those with asthma-be immunized against influenza.
“Flu epidemics typically start and spread in schools,” said Dr. Edelman. “We highly recommend that children with asthma get a flu shot as soon as it is available, as the flu can trigger a serious asthma attack.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yearly flu vaccinations will begin in September, or as soon as the vaccine becomes available.
In preparation for the school year ahead, the American Lung Association urges parents who have children with asthma to complete the following checklist:
Step 1 – Learn about asthma
Learning about asthma is easy. The American Lung Association has many free resources to help you, your child and their caregivers learn how to keep asthma in good control. Well controlled asthma is the key to helping your child stay healthy and active.
Visit www.lung.org/asthma to learn about asthma and asthma management. Be sure to watch the short animation What is Asthma? to learn what happens in the airways during asthma episode.
Asthma Basics is a 50-minute online educational tool for people living with asthma or anyone who provides care for someone living with asthma. It teaches how to recognize and manage asthma symptoms, how to identify and reduce triggers, how to create an asthma management plan and how to respond to a breathing emergency.
If you have a child with asthma, Lungtropolis is the web site to visit together. You’ll find action-packed games designed to help kids control their asthma - plus advice for parents like you.
Step 2 – Talk to the school nurse
A visit or phone call to the school nurse should be your next step. Together, you and the school nurse along with your child’s health care provider can work to reduce asthma triggers and manage symptoms while in school.
Ask the school nurse to explain and provide all of the required forms you and your child’s health care provider need to sign and complete.
Discuss your child’s asthma triggers and steps to reduce them in the classroom.
Ask about the school’s asthma emergency plan, and if coaches, teachers and staff are trained in how to recognize asthma symptoms and respond to a breathing emergency.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow children to self-carry and use their asthma inhalers while at school. Asthma can be fatal and you never know when asthma symptoms may occur. Discuss the policies and practices to ensure immediate access to your child’s asthma medication while at school.
Visit www.lung.org/asthma to learn more about asthma, and how to help schools become more asthma-friendly.
Step 3 - Schedule Asthma Check-up
Each school year should begin with a visit to your child’s health care provider for an asthma check-up. This check-up is the best time to make sure your child is on the right amount of medicine for their asthma, to fill-out any forms required by the school and to create an asthma management plan as described in Step 4.
Kids with asthma should visit their health care provider at least once a year and more often when they are having symptoms. It’s important that your child has an updated asthma action plan on file at school and one at home and has been trained to use the prescribed medicines and devices. Visit how to make your medical visits more satisfying to find helpful hints on how to talk to your child’s health care provider.
If your child uses a spacer or valved-holding chamber or a peak flow meter, ask your healthcare provider for a prescription for two; one can be kept at home and one at school. A peak flow meter at school will help the school nurse assess your child’s asthma symptoms.
Asthma medicine only works if it is taken correctly. Your healthcare provider can teach your child the correct way to hold and inhale the medicine. Visit www.lung.org/asthmameds to watch how-to videos for using inhalers and to print easy-to-follow instructions.
It’s important for all kids to stay active, especially those with asthma. Discuss the types of physical activity and sports your child wants to play and the steps to take avoid symptoms while exercising. Follow these steps to help your child stay active with asthma.
Remember to provide all of the signed paperwork to the school nurse to ensure your child can use asthma inhalers as prescribed and participate in physical activity. Every child with well-controlled asthma can and should be encouraged to participate in physical activity.
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Step 4 - Develop an Asthma Action Plan
An asthma action plan is a written worksheet created by your health care provider and tailored to your child’s needs. The plan includes a list of their asthma triggers and symptoms, the names of their medicines and how much medicine to take when needed. The plan also explains the steps to take to manage an asthma episode and a breathing emergency.
An asthma action plan should always be on file at in the school nurse’s office at easily accessible to anyone who may need to help your child use their inhaler. Everyone who comes in contact with your child at school also has a copy, including teachers, coaches, school bus drivers and after-school care programs. Keep a copy for yourself to help you manage your child’s asthma symptoms when he’s at home.
Step 5 – Get a Flu Shot
On average, 1 out of 5 Americans suffer from influenza (flu) every year. Respiratory infections such as the flu are one of the most common asthma triggers. The American Lung Association’s Asthma Clinical Research Centers found the flu shot is safe for people with asthma. The best way to protect your family from the flu is for everyone over the age of six month to get vaccinated.
For additional information on asthma and children, including a downloadable version of this checklist with even more details, visit www.lung.org/asthma or call 1-800-LUNG-USA.