Back to school time is already upon us! As parents and children begin to prepare for the new school year we once again have to consider how COVID-19 will factor into this year. The 2021-2022 school year is going to be different, with some schools holding in-person classes, some opening virtually, and others choosing a hybrid model. Masking, vaccines, managing asthma and the flu season are currently top of mind. Parents trying to navigate the risks involved with sending a child to school during a pandemic can be difficult, especially if your child has a chronic lung disease, like asthma.
To help you navigate these challenges, the American Lung Association has answered the top searched for questions from parents about children with asthma returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: Is it safe for my child with asthma to return to in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes. Though if you have concerns they should be discussed with your child’s healthcare provider. So, before school starts, schedule a visit to discuss your child’s wellbeing and asthma care check-ups. Be sure to get up-to-date on recommended vaccinations including an annual flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine if your child is eligible.
Q: Is it safe for my child with asthma to get vaccinated for COVID-19?
Yes. According to the CDC, vaccines are widely accessible in the US and recommended for everyone age 12 years and older. Currently, many doctors’ offices, pharmacies, state or local public health departments offer this vaccine for no cost. Getting vaccinated can prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Unvaccinated people are encouraged to continue to wear masks until they are fully vaccinated.
For more information, visit the CDC COVID-19 vaccine guidance: What you need to know or visit the American Lung Association’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker.
Q: Is it safe for my child with asthma to wear a mask?
Yes. CDC recommends that people 2 years and older wear a cloth face covering while around others. Children with asthma should be able to wear a cloth face covering if their asthma is well-controlled. Each state and district develops and implements their policies based on current scientific evidence and guidance. Check with your school district to find out what the new school year policies will be.
Q: How do I communicate the health needs of my child with asthma with school personnel?
Prior to the start of the school year, reach out to the designated school health staff to make sure you understand the school’s asthma medication policies and practices and the steps they take to treat your child when they have symptoms.
Learn your school's asthma policies and asthma emergency procedures. Ask if they stock quick-relief inhalers for your child to use if there is an emergency. Ask who gets notified if your child experiences symptoms and needs treatment during the school day. Schools may require an Asthma Action Plan, health forms, a quick-relief inhaler and spacer or valved holding chamber.
In addition, you should discuss what actions the school is putting into place this school year to prevent COVID-19 infections, such as masking, social distancing, ventilation and cleaning practices.
Q: Will my child with asthma be allowed to use their quick-relief medicine if they are experiencing asthma symptoms during the school day?
Yes. The use of a quick-relief inhaler, with a spacer or valved holding chamber, should not spread viral particles because, when used correctly, the medicine is inhaled into the lungs and not expelled. Coughing is a common asthma symptom and using an inhaler could also cause a child to cough. Children should maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet and cover their mouth if their asthma or the use of an inhaler makes them cough.
It’s important to communicate with the school health office to inform them that your child has asthma and to complete any paperwork that may be required by the school to allow your child to self-carry and self-administer their asthma medicine during the school day. Mark all asthma medicines that you plan to send to school with your child's name and complete instructions on how the medicine should be used.
If your child forgets their medicine or is not able to self-carry, discuss treatment options with the school health staff.
Q: Are quick relief inhalers just as effective at stopping my child’s asthma symptoms from getting worse as a nebulizer?
Quick relief inhalers are just as effective as nebulizers at stopping asthma symptoms from getting worse. Studies have shown that using a quick-relief inhaler with a spacer/valved holding chamber (and proper technique) can help get the medicine deep into the lungs where it works best.
For more information on proper use, see Using an Inhaler with a Valved Holding Chamber.
Q: If my child has to stay home due to asthma symptoms, how long should we wait before returning to school?
Once asthma symptoms are under control a student should be able to return to school. It is recommended to consult with the child’s healthcare provider first and follow the school’s asthma policies for returning to school. According to CDC recommendations, if your child was sick, a person can safely be around others 10 days after initial symptoms appear and return to school no sooner than this and 24 hours after a fever disappears without the use of fever-reducing medication. However, check with your child’s healthcare provider about when it is safe to be around others. Your school district may have other criteria to allow re-entry to school which may include an additional testing to confirm negative COVID-19 results.
To learn more about when your child can safely be around others after experiencing symptoms visit the CDC’s website for their recommendations.
The “Back to School” season for children with asthma often results in more frequent symptoms and asthma flare-ups. So, to keep asthma well controlled, be sure to monitor symptoms, avoid asthma triggers, and take asthma medicines as prescribed, including daily long-term controller medicines.
Preparing for the 2021-2022 school year during the times of COVID-19 may be challenging for many parents, but we are here to help. Below are some additional resources to help you navigate this difficult time.
- CDC Back to School Decision-Making Tool for Parents and Guardians
- From the Frontlines: The Truth About Masks and COVID-19 Blog
- Clearing the Air: An update about COVID-19 Transmission and Personal Protection
- Tips for Wearing a Mask
- 2021-2022 Back to School with Asthma Toolkit for Schools
Stay up to date on COVID-19 by visiting Lung.org/covid-19.
Blog last updated: August 25, 2023