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 is important to know how to ensure that they receive proper asthma care while at school.
There are several steps you should take to prepare your child with asthma for going to school, including getting symptoms under control, having an up-to-date written asthma action plan, and making sure your child knows what to do when they have asthma symptoms at school.
One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver of a child with asthma is to make sure that their asthma symptoms are under control as well as possible before they start school.
This 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.
For a child who needs 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.
Meet with your child’s doctor to make sure that your child’s asthma action plan is up to date. This includes having:
Be sure to provide the school with electronic or printed copies prior to the first day of school.
Make sure your child knows what to do if they experience asthma symptoms at school, including:
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.
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Be sure to contact your child’s school well before school starts or when moving to a new school. Ensure that the school has the proper staff, facilities, and training to support your child’s condition.
You will need to find out as much as you can about the school’s policies regarding children with asthma. 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 which 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 and self-administering asthma medications.
Be sure to provide a copy of your child’s asthma action plan to their school, child care center, after-school program, or bus driver, if they take a bus. Also, make sure you provide the school with asthma medications for your child, including spacers for inhalers, when applicable. If your child will use a nebulizer at school, you may need to provide one.
Be sure to learn about the school’s ability to provide proper asthma care. Make sure that a qualified school nurse is always available, and find out what training teachers and other 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.
When starting at a new school, you may also want to speak with other parents of children with asthma to find out what their experiences have been. If you’re able to speak to other parents in the same situation, it may help you better prepare for possible contingencies.
If existing school policies do not adequately cover your child’s asthma needs, then you will want to meet with school staff to establish an individual health care plan (IHCP) for your child, including an emergency care plan (ECP). An IHCP and ECP go hand in hand with an 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 an IHCP and ECP, some children with asthma may also benefit from a 504 plan. A 504 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.
You never know when an unexpected asthma attack will occur, but you can prepare 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 while at school.
Going to school with childhood asthma 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.
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