Asthma and School Absences

Outsmarting Asthma

Outsmarting Asthma

Asthma and School Absences

Chances are, you know someone who suffers from asthma. According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, asthma is the number one leading cause of school absenteeism due to a chronic illness. With such prevalence, asthma is a crucial topic among educators and anyone who may work with or around children.

 

Little known facts

  • While asthma can affect any person, regardless of other health issues, socioeconomic status unfortunately plays a significant role in asthma treatment and management. Due to factors such as environment, access to medical treatment, and overall awareness of the chronic illness, minority and low-income populations are among those who are most negatively affected by asthma symptoms. Consequently, these asthma sufferers are more likely to miss more school due to sudden, uncontrollable flare-ups. Therefore, teachers should be aware of the likelihood of chronic absenteeism that often accompanies students with unmanageable asthma, as well as how to respond.
    • Check-in with students/parents during a prolonged absence.
    • Reassure families by assigning or sending home only the necessary work, i.e., work that involves a student’s ability to meet a mastery objective. If it is busy work or practice material, excuse the student.
    • Ask about when to anticipate the student’s arrival back at school. This allows you to plan for time to catch the student up with his missed work. It shows the student that you recognize her absence and eagerly await her return.
    • Ask about any pertinent information from the physician; this is especially critical for physical education teachers and/or athletic coaches.
  • Asthma triggers and flare-ups vary from child to child and multiple factors could contribute to a sudden attack.
    • While smoke, pollution, and allergens are well-known culprits for asthma attacks, strong odors may cause flare-ups as well. Therefore, teachers should be wary of using any sort of room deodorizer, surface cleaner, or spray in the classroom, as these could ignite a coughing fit or subsequent asthma attack.
    • When necessary, check with the school’s maintenance staff about district-approved cleaning supplies or deodorizers before using them in the classroom.
    • Schools should also be sure to notify parents prior to the use of any pesticide treatments around school grounds, as these could aggravate asthma symptoms as well.
  • Weather often plays a key role in a child’s asthma management. Extreme heat and humidity can greatly affect asthma sufferers, especially those with exercise-induced asthma. Physical education teachers and athletic coaches should be aware of the first signs of an asthma flare-up. These include:
    • Wheezing or whistling sound when inhaling or exhaling
    • Inconsolable coughing
    • Paleness and/or perspiration
    • Difficulty talking or inhaling
    • Complaints of chest pains or tightness around the chest and neck
  • In addition to heat and humidity, extreme cold or wind may also aggravate the lungs and airways for asthma sufferers. Teachers and school staff should be kept abreast of specific children with asthma who may walk to and from school, as cold air and wind could instigate a sudden attack.
    • Teachers should know which children carry their inhalers with them during the school day and which have inhalers or bronchodilators that are kept in the health room or with the nurse.
    • Regardless of a parent’s action plan, or lack thereof, school staff must be aware of where to retrieve emergency corticosteroids should a sudden attack occur.
    • It is also vital that staff be responsible for handling inhalers and epi-pens during field trips or overnight school trips. If the nurse is not accompanying the group, staff should meet with the nurse prior to the trip to review students that may require specific medications, how to administer them, and when.
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