BRIDGEWATER – As summer sizzles by, families across the state are beginning to prepare for the new school year. A new school environment can sometimes be difficult for children with asthma. This back-to-school season, the American Lung Association in New Jersey highlights tips for families of children with asthma and stresses the importance of crafting a plan to properly manage asthma in a school environment.
“It’s important that parents of students with asthma first consider their child’s health and the time they spend under the supervision of school personnel and the school environment in preparing their child to go back to school,” said Albert Rizzo, M.D., immediate past-chair, National Board of the American Lung Association. “Parents should work closely with their healthcare provider and school personnel before the school year begins to initiate a plan for good asthma control in the classroom.”
Affecting an estimated seven million children under the age of 18—including over 160,000 children in New Jersey alone—asthma is one of the most common chronic childhood disorders in the nation. It is also one of the primary illness-related reasons that students miss school, accounting for more than 14 million lost school days each year.
Asthma is the third-leading cause of hospitalization for children under 15. In 2009, nearly one-third of people with asthma experienced at least one episode, or attack—with children 36 percent more likely than adults to have an asthma episode.
The onset of a new school year also marks the beginning of the cold and flu season. Influenza poses a special health risk to children with asthma, as these children often experience more severe symptoms. The American Lung Association in New Jersey strongly recommends that all children—especially those with asthma—be immunized against influenza.
“Flu epidemics commonly begin and spread in schools,” said Dr. Rizzo. “We strongly recommend that children with asthma get a flu shot as soon as it is accessible as the flu can trigger a serious asthma attack.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yearly flu vaccinations will begin in September, or as soon as the vaccine becomes available.
In preparation for the school year ahead, the American Lung Association urges parents who have children with asthma to complete the following checklist:
Step 1 – Learn about asthma
Learning about asthma is easy. The American Lung Association in New Jersey has many free resources to help you and your child learn how to keep asthma in good control. Well controlled asthma is the key to helping your child stay healthy and active.
- Visit www.lung.org/asthma to learn about asthma and asthma management. Be sure to watch the short animation What is Asthma? to learn what happens in the airways during an asthma episode.
- Asthma Basics is a 50-minute online educational tool for people with asthma or anyone who provides care for someone living with asthma. It teaches how to recognize and manage asthma symptoms, how to identify and reduce triggers, how to create an asthma management plan and how to respond to a breathing emergency.
- Visit Lungtropolis along with your 5-10 year old child. You’ll find action-packed games designed to help kids control their asthma — plus advice for parents like you.
Step 2 – Talk to the school nurse
A visit or phone call to the school nurse should be your next step. Together, you and the school nurse, along with your child’s healthcare provider, can work to reduce asthma triggers and manage symptoms while in school.
- Ask the school nurse to explain and provide all of the required forms you and your child’s healthcare provider need to sign and complete, including an asthma action plan.
- All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow children to self-carry and use their asthma inhalers while at school. Each law is different; visit www.breatheatschool.org and click on your state to learn more.
- Discuss your child’s asthma triggers and steps to reduce them in the classroom.
- Ask about the school’s asthma emergency plan, and if coaches, teachers and staff are trained in how to recognize asthma symptoms and respond to a breathing emergency.
Step 3 – Schedule Asthma Check-up
Each school year should begin with a visit to your child’s healthcare provider for an asthma check-up. This check-up is the best time to make sure your child is on the right amount of medicine for their asthma, to fill-out any forms required by the school and to create an asthma management plan as described in Step 4. Kids with asthma should visit their healthcare provider every three to six months, depending on how often your child is having symptoms.
The Lung Association website provides helpful hints on how to talk to your healthcare provider and make your medical visits more satisfying.
Step 4 – Develop an Asthma Action Plan
An asthma action plan is a written worksheet created by your healthcare provider and tailored to your child’s needs. The plan includes a list of their asthma triggers and symptoms, the names of their medicines and how much medicine to take when needed. The plan also explains the steps to take to manage an asthma episode and a breathing emergency. An asthma action plan should always be on file in the school nurse’s office and easily accessible to anyone who may need to help your child use their inhaler.
Step 5 – Get a Flu Shot
On average, one out of five Americans suffers from influenza (flu) every year. Respiratory infections such as the flu are one of the most common asthma triggers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone over the age of six months get a flu vaccination. The best way to protect your family from the flu is for everyone to get vaccinated. Learn more at www.facesofinfluenza.org.
For additional information on asthma and children, including a downloadable version of this checklist with even more details, visit www.lung.org/asthma or call 1-800-LUNG-USA.
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