Back-to-school season can mean more than just jitters and wardrobe concerns for kids with asthma. From the common cold to in-school allergens regularly swirling around the classrooms, being back in school can send kids' asthma into a real frenzy.
More than 10% of kids and teens going back to school are living with the chronic lung disease, which contributes to almost 13 million missed schooldays each year, says the American Lung Association (ALA).
And asthma can be a big problem for boys, especially, who tend to get it as kids more often than girls. But there is some good news for boys with the condition.
Researchers looked at 1,000-plus 5- to 12-year-olds with mild to moderate asthma over the span of about 9 years. What they found: After starting puberty, boys were more likely to show signs of improvement in their asthma than girls.
Scientists aren't sure about the reasons for this gender difference in the course of asthma in kids, but more research is planned. The results of these studies may provide valuable clues for doctors as they try to develop better asthma treatment strategies.
What This Means to You
Whether it's your son or daughter who has asthma, it's essential to control the condition day-to-day and help prevent major flare-ups before they happen.
Here are some simple asthma management to-do's as your child heads back to school:
Schedule an appointment with your doctor — even if your child's asthma is under control, says the ALA. Go over any physical activity restrictions and your child's written asthma action (or management) plan. And make sure all prescriptions are appropriate and up to date and that you have plenty of refills.
Encourage and help your child to steer clear of or deal with possible asthma triggers, especially common in-school ones like:
- chalk dust
- animal dander (from the class pet)
- viral infections (colds, the flu, etc.)
- dust (and the mites it contains)
- exercise, cold air, and pollen (all of which can become a real problem during phys-ed classes)
Give the school a current copy of your child's asthma action plan and talk to school personnel (the school nurse, coaches, and teachers — especially phys-ed instructors) about your child's asthma and possible triggers, the school's procedures for handling asthma attacks and how to contact you in an emergency, and how to recognize the early warning signs that a flare-up might be coming, like:
- rapid or irregular breathing
- throat clearing
- unusual fatigue
- trouble sitting or standing still
Make sure your child has asthma medications on hand — both controller medications (to keep asthma in check) and rescue medications (to relieve symptoms and help treat attacks), as well as a peak flow meter (an inexpensive, portable device that helps monitor asthma). But be sure to talk to the school about their rules for carrying and using medications (like inhalers), recommends the ALA — some schools require a doctor's note.
Talk to your child about what to do in the event of an asthma flare-up — whether it feels like one might be coming or it has already happened. Make sure your child knows how to administer medications and to tell an adult right away.
Emphasize regular and thorough hand washing to help keep a lot of infectious bugs at bay that could cause an asthma flare-up.
Track how your child is doing day to day by keeping a weekly asthma diary that records symptoms, medications, and readings from the peak flow meter. This will help your doctor make any necessary changes to the treatment plan.
When students' asthma isn't in check, it can affect everything from how well they do in class to how much they're able to participate in sports. That's why it's so crucial to consistently manage kids' asthma to prevent symptoms or keep them from getting worse.
Kids may react to triggers over time, with gradual exposure, or suddenly and without warning. The result is usually an asthma flare-up (or attack) — when the lungs' already-inflamed airways become more swollen and clogged with sticky mucus, and the muscles around the airways tighten, leaving little room for air to flow through. But when asthma is well controlled, flare-ups happen less often and may not be as serious.
You can tell when asthma isn't under control, says the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), if a child:
- has asthma symptoms that are waking the family at night
- has a hard time playing sports, exercising, or participating in physical activities like dance or martial arts
- chronically misses school (and you keep missing work)
Although you can't always prevent an attack, you can proactively stay on top of your child's condition to keep it in line — not just when problems arise, but every day.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2008
Source: "Airway Responsiveness in Mild to Moderate Childhood Asthma: Sex Influences on the Natural History," American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, August 15, 2008.