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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.


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

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

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