Students living with asthma and allergies should be able to fully participate in school. However, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism.
Schoolchildren spend anywhere from 800 to 1,100 hours in school every year. It’s critical that schools have sound policies and protocols in place for managing asthma and severe allergies. Students living with these conditions should be able to fully participate in their school experience.
That isn’t always the case.
Asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism and if it’s not well-managed at school, it could quickly become life-threatening if not treated right away. Severe allergies to food, insect venom or latex can also be life-threatening if the student is at risk for anaphylaxis.
School staff and school nurses should develop health policies and plans so they’re prepared to deal with asthma and severe allergies at school.
What should policies look like? The policies should address how to care for students with asthma and allergies, as well as students who experience their first symptoms at school.
The policies should also cover:
- administering and storing medications, including stock albuterol and epinephrine
- identifying staff members authorized to administer the medication
- a planned response in case of an emergency
- education, training and notification, including asthma information for teachers
- a school district-wide communications plan
Students experience fewer missed days from school when parents and schools work together to address risk factors for asthma and severe allergies. Building a trusting relationship is key. Parents, teachers, and school nurses should meet to discuss the student’s medication needs, including whether medication is self-carried review the Asthma Action Plan or Anaphylaxis Emergency Action Plan, and what to do in an emergency.
School nurses and teachers should also build a trusting relationship with the student. This helps the student feel comfortable to share when asthma symptoms are emerging. The teacher can treat the student’s health condition confidentially and encourage full participation in the school’s educational program.
A healthy environment
A healthy school environment is a key factor in asthma and allergy management in schools. Schools can assess their indoor air quality as a part of their program to reduce triggers for asthma and allergies in school. Some common triggers include:
- Outdoor pollen brought inside the school from open doors and windows
- Indoor mold
- Animal dander (perhaps from classroom pets)
- Exhaust from idling school buses or cars outside the school
- Harmful chemicals from school cleaning supplies
Knowing a student’s triggers and removing as many as possible from the school environment can improve a student’s breathing and possibly reduce the need for medication.
This is especially important in August and September, when children head back to school. Studies show asthma attacks tend to rise among children in mid-September. Why? They are exposed to more colds and viruses that set off asthma; and September brings increased ragweed and outdoor mold levels, both potent asthma triggers.
A positive and safe school environment
Bullying of schoolchildren with asthma and food allergies is surprisingly common. About 10% to 15% of children with asthma report being bullied, according to multiple studies.
Among kids with food allergies, 30% report being bullied, and that number increases to 50% in grades 6-10, according to the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
Many schools are focusing on creating a positive school environment that include bullying prevention programs. The goal is to establish a school culture of support, respect, and achievement where students can thrive.
When students are presented with science-based information about asthma and food allergies – why some people have it some don’t, why a student carries an asthma inhaler or epinephrine auto-injector — they become more knowledgeable and more accepting. It not only increases social awareness but also instills compassion and car.
Every child and every school is different, but a commitment from parents, schools, and students to develop a learning environment that is safe, respectful, and encouraging helps stop the cycle of bullying.
Learn more at AllergyAsthmaNetwork.org.