By Kathleen Berger in collaboration with University of Missouri Health Care
The beginning of the school year is a risky time for students with asthma. The back-to-school season is the most common time of year for children with asthma to wind up in the hospital.
“September and October are the peak months all across the country for emergency room visits and admission to the hospital for children with asthma,” said MU Health Care pediatric nurse practitioner Benjamin Francisco, PhD.
Allergens in the air and germs in the classroom can irritate airways and cause asthma attacks.
Rachel Alvarez is a high school senior in Columbia, Missouri. At band practice, she starts the school year with her asthma plan well rehearsed.
“It doesn’t help that I play sousaphone, and you have to use a lot of air,” said Alvarez.
She pre-medicates, and keeps the inhaler close by during performances.
“I always have one of the band directors get it, or since my dad’s there, he has it, and he’s always watching me.”
Her asthma is well managed, but for younger students these first few weeks of school, that’s not always the case.
Francisco said every year in the U.S. children die after having severe asthma attacks. The end of summer brings a spike in mold spores and weed pollen, which irritate airways. With students in close quarters in the classroom, respiratory infections increase. Francisco explained how tragedies are preventable during this back-to-school season. Having a plan and a routine can manage even the most severe asthma cases.
“You prevent future attacks by giving daily medications that suppress or keep down inflammation,” Francisco said.
Francisco is director of Asthma Ready® Communities, a nonprofit organization that offers evidence-based educational programs for children with asthma, their families, and health professionals. To prevent back-to-school asthma attacks, he suggested parents follow these three tips:
- Be a care coach: Parents should ensure their children routinely take their medications and properly use their inhalers.
“Most asthma patients take two types of medications: a control medication they use at home, and a rescue inhaler they bring with them to school,” Francisco said. “The best way to prevent asthma attacks is to make sure your child takes his or her control medicine twice a day every day. But it’s also important to understand that taking inhaled medications is not like swallowing a pill. It is a special skill that requires practice and coaching.”
- Know the warning signs: Asthma attacks commonly creep up on kids. Students can be extremely short of breath before anyone realizes they urgently require medical attention. Parents can stop or minimize the severity of asthma attacks by giving daily control medications, watching for asthma warning signs and going for regular asthma checkups.
“If a child with asthma develops a persistent cough or begins to struggle to sleep through the night due to respiratory problems, he or she might be showing signs of worsening asthma,” Francisco said. “Also, if your child reaches for a rescue inhaler several times a week to stop breathing problems, his or her asthma is not well controlled. Schedule an appointment so we can help get things back under control.”
- Inform the school: “It is very important for children to have trusted people wherever they are,” Francisco said. “At school, that should include teachers, coaches and the school nurse. Make sure people know your child has asthma so they can help keep an eye out for breathing problems and initiate care as soon as possible.”
Over the past decade, Asthma Ready® Communities has worked with many schools across Missouri to ensure they have resources available to monitor students with asthma and intervene during emergencies. It’s encouraged to contact the organization if your child’s school needs asthma training or equipment.