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Asthma and back to school

Glenn Ellis | 9/6/2019, 6 a.m.
As summer winds down and talk in households around the country turns to back-to-school preparations, many parents and students are ...
Glenn Ellis

As summer winds down and talk in households around the country turns to back-to-school preparations, many parents and students are getting ready for another school year with the challenges of asthma.

Asthma is a leading chronic illness among children and adolescents in the United States. It is also one of the leading causes of school absenteeism.

On average, in a classroom of 30 children, about three are likely to have asthma. This contributes to more than 10 million school days lost to asthma each year.

Asthma is a reversible lung disease caused by the narrowing or blocking of the lungs’ airways, often as a response to various triggers. Asthma triggers vary from person to person, but may include cigarette and other smoke, mold, pollens, dust, animal dander, exercise, cold air, household and industrial products, air pollutants and infections.

One of the little-known asthma triggers are cockroaches. These and other kinds of triggers can lead to spasms in the lungs, causing asthma attacks. Asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath and can be life-threatening if not properly managed.

There are disparities in the burden of asthma. Although asthma affects Americans of all ages, races and ethnic groups, low-income and minority populations experience substantially higher rates of fatalities, hospital admissions and emergency room visits because of asthma.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black children are twice as likely to have asthma as white children. And black children are 10 times more likely than white children to die of complications from asthma.

The burden of this chronic disease is felt every day at the individual level, whether it’s a frightening asthma attack or the constant vigilance and adherence to treatment plans required to keep it under control.

Here are several tips to help parents of children with asthma to get ready for the new school year:

Asthma Action Plan — Ask your child’s doctor for a written Asthma Action Plan for the school. This plan should include a list of things that make your child’s asthma worse, what medicine to use to treat symptoms, what medication to use as a pre-treatment before exercise and emergency telephone numbers.

Meet with school staff — Plan a meeting with school staff in the beginning weeks of the school year. It is helpful to have the school nurse, health aide, teacher and physical education teacher at the meeting, if possible. Your child also can be involved in the meeting. Take the written Asthma Action Plan to the meeting.

Special supplies at school — Keep a peak flow meter, spacer and rescue medicine at school for your child. Be sure your child’s teacher knows that the medication is there should a problem arise. Make sure the rescue medicine has not passed its expiration date. Take these items home at the end of each school year.  

Gym class — Make sure your child has a pre-treatment for gym class or other physical activities, especially outdoors in cold weather. It is important to be sure that all teachers know this medication is to prevent problems or to take care of them should they occur.