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Help Students Breathe Easier: Asthma Resources on the Net


May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. Use this opportunity -- and this week's Education World resources -- to learn more about asthma and about recent government efforts to fight the disease through increased education and improved management of the physical environment of schools.

"The educational system is a critical component of effective efforts to reduce illness due to asthma in children. Programs will be implemented in schools to ensure a healthy physical environment at the school and to promote improved self-management of asthma through education."

Asthma and the Environment: A Strategy to Protect Children is a PDF-format, downloadable report by the Asthma Area Workshop of the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks For Children.


Asthma in America: A Landmark Survey, a 1998 study funded by Glaxo Wellcome, Inc., found that nearly 5 million children in the United States suffer from asthma. The chronic airway disorder restricts breathing and can, if uncontrolled, result in death. Children with asthma, the study revealed, miss more than 10 million schooldays each year. The result is an inestimable loss of educational benefits and an estimated $1 billion a year loss in productivity by the working parents who stay home to care for asthmatic children. According to the Global Initiative for Asthma, however, most of the physical, monetary, and global costs of asthma "can be alleviated through appropriate asthma prevention and management strategies."

On January 28, 1999, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed those issues in this country when she unveiled a plan White House Fact Sheet: First Lady Unveils New Initiative to Fight Asthma to fight childhood asthma. The strategy calls for the expenditure of $68 million for the development of increased education, research, and management policies aimed at reducing the number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by childhood asthma. Of that amount, $8.4 million will finance the expansion of school-based programs. The goal is to teach children with asthma to identify and avoid asthma triggers and to use their asthma medications. Teachers and other school staff will learn how to eliminate potential triggers from the school and classroom environment.


According to Sandy Hart, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association, both schools and teachers can take immediate action to reduce the consequences of childhood asthma for their students.

Hart told Education World that schools and school districts should

  • maintain a Student Asthma Action Card or an Asthma Action Plan for each asthmatic child at the school and make the plan accessible to all school staff.

  • reduce or eliminate such asthma triggers as dust, chalk dust, mold, and chemical odors from schools' physical environments.

  • reevaluate restrictive policies regarding the administration of asthma-rescue medication in schools. A student's ability to be responsible for his or her own inhalers should be made on an individual, rather than on a district-wide, basis, Hart said.

  • implement Open Airways for Schools, a program that teaches children to manage their asthma and prevent asthma episodes.

The most important things teachers can do, Hart continued, are

  • understand that most children with asthma are in tune with their condition and, therefore, are the best judges of when medication or other treatment is necessary.

  • be immediately responsive to students with asthma who request permission to leave the room to obtain or use rescue medication.

  • be aware that labored breathing, coughing, fidgeting, or agitated behavior can be indicative of an asthma attack in a child who is too shy or embarrassed to speak up.

  • keep pets, plants, stuffed furniture, and other potential asthma triggers out of classrooms and reduce exposure to other common triggers, such as chalk dust.

  • teach students about asthma so that children with asthma feel less alone and children without asthma can provide understanding and support.


A large number of on-line resources are available to help teachers understand and teach their students about the causes, effects, and management strategies that can help control childhood asthma. The best place to begin is probably at the Mining Company's Asthma homepage. The site includes

  • Status Asthmaticus, a description of asthma attacks that don't respond to treatment;

  • Asthma Anatomy, a four-part illustrated tour of the human respiratory system as it is affected by asthma;

  • Diagnostic Testing, a description of tests used to predict or assess asthma attacks;

  • Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma, and

  • Pediatric Asthma, a three-part series on the diagnosis and management of asthma in infants and children. These articles and tutorials will provide more than enough information about the physical causes and implications of asthma to help you understand and deal with asthmatic students in your classroom or school.


If you don't have the time, or need, for such extensive medical data, you might prefer to check out one of the terrific informational resources that have been created specifically for classroom teachers. These include

  • Asthma and Physical Activity in the School, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Asthma Education and Prevention Program. Don't be fooled by the title of this booklet. Its purpose isn't only to help students with asthma participate in physical activities at school. It can also provide families, physicians, and school staff with the information they need to work together to help students with asthma remain healthy and able to participate in all school activities.

  • Asthma at School, from the Saskatchewan Lung Association, tackles such routine -- and easily overlooked -- topics as art activities, field trips, and physical education.

  • How Asthma-Friendly Is Your School? The list of seven questions can help you determine how well equipped your school is to manage students with asthma.

  • Tip 19: Asthma & the School Child This site details physical, emotional, and behavioral problems that children with asthma might encounter at school. It also provides excellent information for parents and teachers about how they can help students avoid and/or deal with those problems.


In addition to the sites for teachers and school administrators, a number of on-line resources can help students better understand their asthma or that of a friend or classmate. According to Sandy Hart at the Lung Association, children with asthma often believe they are the only ones with the disease, and many are embarrassed to tell their classmates about it. That can interfere with a student's willingness to ask for and obtain prompt treatment in the early stages of an asthma episode.

You can help students with asthma overcome their sense of isolation by introducing all your students to some of these interesting, fun, and (shhh!) educational activities.

  • Tim & Moby tour the mysteries of life, including "Asthma Info" -- news, information, and resource links about asthma that are appropriate for students in grade 3 and above. Click All About Asthma to learn about the respiratory system and to discover some theories about the causes of asthma.

  • At Air Junk: Specks, Flecks, and Particles in the Air, elementary students can build a particle collector and then get a close-up view of the kinds of air junk that cause allergies and asthma.

  • Asthma, a tutorial from the University of Virginia's Children's Medical Center, introduces the affects of asthma on the human respiratory system. Clearly written text and colorful illustrations help elementary students see, hear, and compare breathing during and after an asthma attack.

  • Students from the primary grades through high school will enjoy a visit to EFAnet, the European Federation of Asthma and Allergy Associations. The site includes general asthma information as well as a page where students can read about kids with asthma and submit poetry, color pictures, send an electronic greeting card, or follow the adventures of Luffe the air bubble as it travels through the human airways. Teens can learn, chat, ask questions, and visit an interactive bedroom to learn more about asthma and its triggers at the site's Cool Page.

  • Finally, adapt one of these asthma quizzes to see what your students know or have learned:
    Take the Asthma Quiz
    Asthma Quiz:

    Did you pass the quiz? If not, you might want to explore some...


    • Issue Index of Children's Environmental Health Resources Scroll to Asthma to find links to resources addressing the issue.

    • Ed's Asthma Track Designed for parents of children with asthma, this site contains many resources teachers can use too.

    • Special Books for Special Kids! This Education World story focuses on the work of JayJo Books. The company has found its niche as a publisher of books written to teach elementary school children about their classmates or others who might be living with a chronic disease such as asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy.

    • Allernet includes lots of information about allergies and asthma. The Allergy & Asthma Newsletter includes a quiz, a dictionary, and stories of real patients. Allergy & Asthma Web Sites provides links to several additional sites.

    • Articles of Interest contains articles about allergies and asthma in school.

    Article by Linda Starr
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2010 Education World

    Originally published 05/03/1999
    Last updated 03/30/2010