Vol. 17 •Issue 8 • Page 41
Back-to-School Asthma Prep
Strategies to improve educators’ understanding and awareness
Asthma education is one area where no child should be left behind.
In a classroom of 30 children, three will likely have some degree of asthma. Results of a survey taken in 2002 indicated 12.2 percent of children (8.9 million) had been told asthma was likely in their lives. Roughly 8.3 percent (6.1 million) had asthma and 5.8 percent (4.2 million) had experienced an asthma attack in the past 12 months.
These are all youngsters who already are or eventually will be a part of the nation’s school systems. These numbers indicate there is a need for schools to provide effective asthma education and for those children diagnosed with asthma to have an individual action plan available and accessible in the school.
This especially is important for children living in urban areas who generally have higher incidences of asthma. Inner-city schools often become a lifeline and a primary provider of care and social support. As such, incorporating health care for children on this level is valuable, crucial and socially responsible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified six strategies that schools and districts should consider when developing asthma programs:
- provide appropriate school health and mental health services for students with asthma
- provide asthma education and awareness programs for students and school staff
- provide a safe and healthy school environment to reduce asthma triggers
- provide safe, enjoyable physical education and activity opportunities for students with asthma
- coordinate school, family, and community efforts to better manage asthma symptoms and reduce school absences among students with asthma, and
- establish management and support systems for asthma-friendly schools.
Programs on the blackboard
The American Lung Association has created a program known as the Asthma-Friendly Schools Initiative that is complementary to the CDC’s strategies.
The initiative’s main goal is to assist local communities in organizing and planning comprehensive asthma management programs within their local school systems. It is based on an Asthma-Friendly Schools Initiative Toolkit designed to maximize school health services, build asthma education awareness, craft a healthy school environment, and organize physical activities.
Individual schools can choose the components of each section that best suit their needs. The toolkit helps the school systems use a customized approach when formulating and implementing a comprehensive asthma management plan. It provides samples that can be downloaded in their entirety using a computer and then applied to the unique culture found in each school setting.
Visit www.lungusa.org/afsi to access these documents.
An especially helpful part of the toolkit is the Asthma Incidence Reporter database. By tracking students with asthma, school nurses can access reliable information that can be used to evaluate the asthma program’s effectiveness and students’ quality of life. Participating schools and districts must use an encryption key and a password for security purposes.
The ALA also offers a classroom-based program called Open Airways for Schools that targets schoolchildren ages 8 to 11 who have been diagnosed with asthma.
The program is provided to the school or district by local lung associations or partner organizations. It consists of six 40 minute group lessons held during the school day and covers topics such as recognizing and managing asthma symptoms, using medication and inhalers properly, and avoiding asthma triggers.
For more information on Open Airways for Schools, contact your local lung association.
A primary goal of such asthma management programs is to foster students’ awareness of the early signs of an asthma exacerbation so they can take appropriate action quickly.
However, some adults believe they cannot rely on children to take their own medications in schools. They argue that the medications should be locked in the school nurse’s office or an administrator’s office.
Many asthma organizations have taken the opposite stance and have helped pass legislation that guarantees children’s rights to carry their own inhalers, especially those designed specifically for rescue purposes. They assert that children are being taught as early as possible to understand the basic concepts of their disease, how to use their inhalers correctly, and what to do in an emergency; therefore, they should have immediate access to the inhalers that may save their lives.
Forcing a youngster or a teacher to leave a classroom to track down and retrieve an inhaler locked away in an office is a time-consuming procedure and is disruptive to the learning process.
Delays in starting care may put a child in harm’s way. Parents and teachers should check with their school or district about their policies and make certain they correspond with state law.
Michael Donnellan, MBA, RRT-NPS, is a California practitioner.