Back to School With Asthma: Time to Prepare

(July 19, 2011)

While scouring store shelves for school supplies and the latest fall fashions, students across the country are filled with anticipation and anxiety as they prepare for a new school year. Students with asthma—and their parents—face an even bigger concern that must be addressed before the school year starts: their health in the classroom.

It is important to prepare and carefully monitor a detailed action plan to manage asthma and ease the transition to a rigorous academic schedule.

Work Together

Asthma affects an estimated seven million children younger than 18 who face unique challenges not experienced by their non-asthmatic peers, and it accounts for more than 14 million lost school days every year.

“It is essential for parents to work with their healthcare providers and the school to develop a comprehensive action plan detailing the various elements of good asthma control in the school environment,” said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association.

Fight the Flu

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. According to the CDC, yearly flu and H1N1 vaccinations should begin in September, or as soon as the vaccine is available.

“The good news is that research has shown conclusively that getting a flu shot does not trigger an asthma attack,” said Dr. Edelman.

Back-to-School Checklist

  1. Develop an Asthma Action Plan: All students with asthma should have a written Asthma Action Plan that details personal information about the child’s asthma symptoms, medications, any medicine required before exercise and provides specific instructions about what to do if an asthma episode does not improve with prescribed medication. Elementary school children, ages 8-11 can learn to manage their own asthma when they participate in the American Lung Association’s award-winning Open Airways For Schools program.  If you have a child between the ages of 11-16, check out Kickin’ Asthma.

  2. Schedule Asthma Check-up Doctor’s Appointment: Even if your child’s asthma is well managed, Asthma Action Plans should be updated each school year, so schedule a check-up with your healthcare provider. This is critical to ensuring your child’s asthma continues to be effectively controlled, and provides an opportunity to evaluate medications and physical activity considerations.  The American Lung Association’s Make Your Medical Visits More Satisfying program can help prepare you for an appointment. Remember to give a copy of the completed Asthma Action Plan to your child’s school.

  3. Vaccinate Yourself and Your Child Against Seasonal Influenza: The CDC now recommends everyone over the age of six months get a flu vaccination. Protecting yourself against influenza by getting vaccinated, further helps protect your child.

  4. Visit Your Child’s School Nurse and Teachers: All of the child’s teachers, coaches, out-of-school activity organizers, as well as the school nurse and/or office should have a current copy of their Asthma Action Plan. Discuss your child’s specific triggers and typical symptoms so that they can be prepared to effectively assist your child should an asthma episode occur outside of your presence.

  5. Know Your School’s Asthma Emergency Plan: Ensure that your child’s school knows how to contact you in case of an emergency. It is also important for parents to know the school’s past history of dealing with asthma episodes. Parents should confirm that school staff— including after-school coaches and bus drivers — have attended training, such as Asthma 101, an American Lung Association in-service for school personnel, to learn how to respond to asthma emergencies.

  6. Advocate for Your Child: In all 50 states, students have the legal right to carry asthma medications while at school. Check with your school nurse or administrator for your school’s individual policy, and meet with your child’s healthcare provider to complete the required paperwork. To learn more about creating an asthma-friendly school, see the Asthma-Friendly Schools Initiative Toolkit.

  7. Know About Prescription Assistance Services: Don’t let cost of medicines be the reason that your child doesn’t get the necessary treatment to control their asthma. Talk to your local healthcare provider about low-cost or no-coast options that may be available to you. Three organizations are available to help:
    1. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance can be reached by calling 1-888-4PPA-NOW.
    2. Rx Outreach also provides information on their website: www.rxoutreach.com.
    3. Patient Services Incorporated: http://www.uneedpsi.org/cms400min/index.aspx.
    4. Most Pharmaceutical companies offer prescription assistance programs as well.

For additional information on asthma and children, visit www.lung.org or call 1-800-LUNG-USA.