Reading, Writing, Asthmatics

Vol. 20 •Issue 18 • Page 20
Reading, Writing, Asthmatics

Children with Asthma Go Back to School—with Help

With fall just around the corner, parents and children around the country focus on one event: going back to school.

Buses will dot the roads with yellow. Kids, their backpacks jammed with shiny notebooks and new class schedules, will shuffle down school hallways. And as is the case every year, children with asthma will account for 14 million lost school days, according to Harold Finn, CRT.

“Asthma is a major health problem,” he said at the 2005 AARC Congress in San Antonio. “Approximately 25 million Americans live with asthma, and nearly one third of them are 18 years or younger. Often children live with the symptoms, not knowing they could feel better.”

Students in some areas fare far better than those in others when it comes to asthma control. For example, Finn’s agency, Respiratory Consulting Services Inc., based in Williamston, N.C., was responsible for improving the asthma management outcomes in the 14th largest school system in the country by incorporating licensed, credentialed therapists into the care plan.

RCS’s asthma education programs teach children and parents about asthma self-management. Therapists “provide traditional asthma care management in non-traditional settings,” he explained. “What started out as a local asthma management program in one small northeastern North Carolina county has grown into a major presence serving more than one fourth of the entire state.”

No child is denied service; and by going into the schools, RCS staff members bring the services directly to the child. That means no missed appointments.

Working Together

Therapists set up color-coded asthma management plans, working with the parents, teachers and children themselves to help them understand how it works. If the child enters the yellow danger zone, for example, then the teacher follows the plan to get the child back into the safe green zone, Finn said. A note is sent home detailing the situation and the resolution. Copies are sent to the doctor.

If episodes happen repeatedly, the RT will notify the physicians that they should follow-up with the children. In addition to therapists, school nurses play a vital role in the care. “They serve as gatekeepers for the therapists and assure all of the health policies and practices are maintained,” he said. “It has worked out fantastic.”

The success of the school outreach program has been demonstrated through increased individual asthma management, decreased days lost from school and decreased hospital ER visits and admissions.

There can be benefits for students who do not have asthma too, explained Kathryn Stiffler, RRT-NPS, AE-C, RPFT, asthma educator at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Va. Her program is geared to students of all ages, from K-12.

During one of her demonstrations, she showed students the difference between normal and asthmatic lungs by having students inhale through a straw and then through a coffee stirrer. For kids who did not have any experience with asthma, it was a real breakthrough moment.

“They turn to their friends and say ‘I didn’t know. I really didn’t know.’ Their friends then start to help them out,” she said.

One example of help is the way students encouraged teachers to not wear cologne or perfume lest it affect their classmates’ sensitive airways. Classmates learn to take notice when a friend has been using an inhaler more often than normal, as that may signal poor asthma control.

However, if asthma education programs like Finn’s and Stiffler’s are not available in a specific area, parents should take the lead, said Anne Borgmeyer, allergy/pulmonary nurse practitioner at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

To ensure optimal asthma care for a child at school, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends parents should meet with teachers, the school nurse and other relevant school staff to inform them about their child’s condition and special needs.

Parents need to educate school personnel about their child’s asthma medications and how to assist them during an asthma attack and ask school staff to treat their child “normally” when their asthma is under control.

“It is important that the child, family, physician and school staff all work together toward meeting the child’s asthma treatment goals,” she explained.

Shawn Proctor, associate editor and Web editor, can be reached at [email protected].