Asthma causes breathing problems called asthma attacks or episodes that range from mild to serious. People who have asthma have it all the time, but an attack occurs only when something bothers their airways. Food items also can trigger an asthma attack. Some allergens include pollen, tobacco smoke or dust. Some food items might include shellfish or peanuts. During an episode, a person may cough and wheeze or have shortness of breath.
The Centers for Disease Control found that approximately 13 percent of children under 18 have been diagnosed with asthma.
When children who have asthma are getting ready to attend school, they can prepare themselves and the people that care for them. Preparing parents, teachers, school nurses and classmates will help make their time at school a learning experience and not a place where asthma triggers are not monitored, thus making the potential for asthma attacks greater.
When preparing for school, a student with asthma needs to have multiple copies of a written asthma action plan for teachers, school nurse, maintenance personnel and administrators. A list of observer warning signs needs to be part of the written action plan. For example, teachers need to be aware if a student with asthma becomes restless before the onset of an episode. Other signs of a possible episode may include dark circles under the eyes, weakness or a headache.
No child wants to be seen as different from his or her peers, so it can be a fine line between helping a child be more confident in self-monitoring asthma symptoms and a teacher being proactive in minimizing the onset of an emergency situation that can occur with asthma episodes.
The action plan should have a list of triggers. Triggers vary from child to child, so be specific. Triggers might include the smell of bleach, ozone, mold, dust, cigarette smoke or exercise. A list of daily medications a student needs and the rescue medicines he or she carries in the event of an attack, also should be a part of the plan. Some schools require that inhalers be kept with the school nurse, so it is even more critical that teachers and classmates be aware of the warning signs of an attack.
A child should keep an action plan at school so medicine changes and new triggers can be added.
The American Lung Association’s “Open Airways for Schools” is one educational program parents may want to have implemented at their child’s school.
Some children are sensitive to various insects, having a monitored Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program in the school may help reduce attacks. Getting a school involved in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for School program may also be an option. More information about the IAQ program can be found on their web site at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/schools/
Asthma can be a serious disease, but when monitored and symptoms managed, a child can have a happy, productive, learning experience at school.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System publication “Asthma: Controlling Environmental Triggers in the Home” has an action plan for the home and school that parents can fill out and copy. (http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/C/CRD-0078/CRD-0078.pdf?PHPSESSID=214742cbb4129459e363381545e2b5b2)
Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Asthma: Controlling Environmental Triggers in the Home publication http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/C/CRD-0078/CRD-0078.pdf?PHPSESSID=214742cbb4129459e363381545e2b5b2
American Lung Association’s Open Airways for Schools program http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/asthma/in-schools/open-airways/open-airways-for-schools-1.html
American Lung Association’s Asthma Friendly Schools Initiative http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/asthma/creating-asthma-friendly-environments/asthma-in-schools/asthma-friendly-schools-initiative/
Centers for Disease Control Health Statistics 2007 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_10/sr10_239.pdf
Centers for Disease Control Breathing Easier Brochure http://www.cdc.gov/asthma/pdfs/breathing_easier_brochure.pdf
Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program http://www.epa.gov/iaq/schools/
EPA Publication “Help your child gain control over Asthma” http://www.epa.gov/asthma/pdfs/ll_asthma_brochure.pdf
EPA Publication “Asthma Home Environment Checklist” http://www.epa.gov/asthma/pdfs/home_environment_checklist.pdf
Source: Donna Shanklin, Regional Extension Agent, Human Nutrition, Diet and Health, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, (256) 737-9386 or (256) 200-2997.
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