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Back to School with Asthma

Seven Steps to Stay Healthy During the School Day

Asthma image

The start of a new school year is a big transition after the long summer break, especially for families of children with asthma. This back-to-school season, the American Lung Association stresses the importance of preparing and carefully monitoring a detailed action plan to manage asthma and ease the transition to the school environment.

“While new clothes and backpacks are often thought of as back-to-school necessities, it is even more essential for parents of students with asthma 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,” says Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association.

As the most common chronic childhood disorder in the nation, asthma affects an estimated seven million children younger than 18. It is one of the main illness-related reasons that students miss school, accounting for more than 14 million lost school days every year.

Parents should also be aware that cold and flu season is beginning as well. Influenza poses a special health risk to children with asthma, as these children often experience more severe symptoms. All children – especially those with asthma – should be immunized against influenza. Yet surveillance shows that less than half of children with asthma are vaccinated annually against influenza.

“As part of your back-to-school preparation, make sure your child with asthma gets a flu shot,” says Dr. Edelman. “Flu epidemics start and spread in schools, and the flu can lead to a serious asthma attack.

“The good news is that research has shown conclusively that getting a flu shot does not trigger an asthma attack, so there is no good reason not to get one,” he adds. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, yearly flu vaccinations should begin in September, or as soon as the vaccine is available.

Even if your child’s asthma is well managed, asthma action plans should be updated each school year.

In preparation for the school year ahead, the American Lung Association urges parents who have children with asthma to complete the following checklist:

♦ 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, and any medicine required before exercise, and that provides specific instructions about what to do if an asthma episode does not improve with prescribed medication.

♦ Schedule an Asthma Check-up
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. Remember to give a copy of the completed asthma action plan to your child’s school.

♦ 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.

♦ Visit Your Child’s School Nurse and Teachers
All of your child’s teachers, coaches, out-of-school activity organizers, as well as the school nurse and office should have a current copy of your child’s 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.

♦ 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 history of dealing with asthma episodes. Parents should confirm that school staff – including after-school coaches and bus drivers – have attended training to learn how to respond to asthma emergencies.

♦ 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.

♦ Know About Prescription Assistance Services
Don’t let the cost of medicines be the reason that your child doesn’t get the necessary treatment to control his or her asthma. Talk to your local healthcare provider about low-cost or no-cost options that may be available to you. Three organizations are available to help. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance can be reached by calling (888) 4PPA-NOW. Rx Outreach also provides information on their website, Patient Services Incorporated,, also has helpful information available online. Most pharmaceutical companies offer prescription assistance programs as well.


Source: American Lung Association,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, September/October 2011.