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6 Steps for Getting Kids Back to School After an Asthma Attack

Updated on January 09, 2023
Medically reviewed by
Deborah Pedersen, M.D.
Article written by
Kristopher Bunting, M.D.

Childhood asthma affects as many as 1 in 12 children in the United States, making it one of the most common chronic illnesses in school-age children. Whether your child is starting school or nearing graduation, it’s important to help them feel comfortable returning to a school setting after they experience an asthma attack.

Check out six key steps that every parent or caregiver should know.

1. Ensure Asthma Symptoms Are Under Control

An asthma attack can be scary, and kids may worry that their symptoms come back if they return to their previous activities. That’s why it’s essential to confirm that all the symptoms they experienced during the attack are under control and that they head to school prepared for any flares.

This plan includes making sure that their controller or maintenance medications are working effectively and that they are using their quick-relief medication no more than twice a week. For children with moderate to severe persistent asthma, it can be difficult to find the right combination of medications and allergy treatments.

If your child’s post-attack plan involves getting multiple asthma treatments throughout the day, it may be easier for them and their school if medicines can be administered using an inhaler rather than a nebulizer. However, this may not be possible for very young children. Ask your health care provider if your child could use a spacer with an inhaler, rather than a nebulizer, while at school.

Learn about ways to talk to your child’s doctor about asthma treatment.

2. Create an Up-to-Date Asthma Action Plan

Meet with your child’s doctor to make sure that your child’s asthma action plan is up to date. This includes having:

  • Proper baseline or “personal best” peak flow meter readings
  • Lists of medications with doses and when to administer them
  • Detailed instructions or steps to follow if and when symptoms arise

Ensure that your child’s school has electronic or printed copies of the action plan. This will help ease your child’s mind — and yours — so that if another attack happens, everyone will know what to do.

3. Make Sure Your Child Knows What To Do

Preparation is one of the best ways to ease your child’s mind and help them feel comfortable about returning to school. Make sure your child knows what to do if they experience asthma symptoms at school, including:

  • What their symptoms are
  • Which potential triggers to avoid
  • Whom to tell when they need care

They may also need to know how to use their peak flow meter to assess their lung function when they are having symptoms.

Your child should understand how to properly self-administer medication, if appropriate for their age and condition. If they will carry their own quick-relief inhaler, they will likely need a signed authorization from their doctor showing that they need the inhaler and that they know how to use it.

Learn about treatments for children with moderate to severe asthma.

4. Find Out About School Policies

Before sending your child back to school after an attack, it’s a good idea to confirm the school’s policies. Make sure that your child has access to prompt and appropriate treatment for asthma flare-ups or attacks. Find out what the school’s process is for identifying and treating children experiencing asthma symptoms.

Be certain that your child will have access to their asthma medications when needed. If necessary, make sure that your child can get pretreatment before physical education or sports with quick-acting medicines on hand if they need them.

Find out from the school whether there are any new forms you and your child’s health care provider need to fill out and sign. If appropriate, learn what the school’s policies are regarding children carrying or self-administering asthma medications.

Be sure to confirm that your child’s asthma action plan is readily available to teachers and administrators at their school, staff at a child care center, employees at an after-school program, and bus drivers, if they take a bus.

5. Confirm Staff Qualifications

Be sure to confirm the school’s ability to provide proper asthma care so your child will feel comfortable returning after an asthma attack. Make sure that a qualified school nurse is always available, and find out what training teachers and other school staff must have to recognize when children are having asthma symptoms. Find out which medications the school will allow you to keep on site, such as rescue inhalers and EpiPens.

If your child is entering a new environment (such as moving from elementary to middle school or starting to attend extracurriculars), you may also want to speak with other parents of children with asthma to find out what their experiences have been at those places. If you’re able to speak to other parents in the same situation, it may help you better prepare for possible contingencies.

6. Consider Establishing an Individual Health Care Plan

After experiencing an asthma attack, your child may worry about what would happen if one occurs at school. Therefore, you might want to consider establishing an individual health care plan (IHCP) for your child, including an emergency care plan (ECP). An IHCP and ECP go hand in hand with a written asthma action plan, establishing the details for the school’s role in fulfilling the asthma action plan.

An IHCP should include steps the school will take to minimize exposure to allergy and asthma triggers, recognize asthma and allergy symptoms, and provide treatment when needed. An ECP details how asthma symptoms will be treated and when to contact emergency services.

In addition to having an IHCP and ECP, some children with asthma may benefit from a 504 plan. This plan is a legally binding strategy to make reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities.

A 504 plan may be needed if your child has asthma that requires special accommodations for frequent missed school days, limited physical activity, or changes to their classroom location (for schools with mold in buildings, for example). Having a 504 plan affords certain legal rights that can help guarantee that your child gets the necessary care and accommodations at school that they need.

Be Sure Your Child Gets the Asthma Care They Need

You never know when an unexpected asthma attack will occur, but you can be ready for it. Whether your child requires daily asthma care or only needs to be prepared for unlikely emergencies, you, as a parent or caregiver, can ensure that they will get the care they need.

Returning to school after an asthma attack can present many obstacles for children and their parents, but you can prepare for issues before they arise. Make your child’s health a priority, both at home and at school.

Take the poll: What lifestyle changes are most frustrating for your child living with asthma?

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyAsthmaTeam is the social network for people with asthma and their loved ones. On MyAsthmaTeam, more than 10,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with asthma.

Are you a parent or caregiver for a child with asthma? Do you have tips for others whose children are returning to school after an asthma attack? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Deborah Pedersen, M.D. has specialized in allergy and asthma care as well as pediatrics for over 16 years. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Kristopher Bunting, M.D. studied chemistry and life sciences at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, and received his doctor of medicine degree from Tulane University. Learn more about him here.

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