Asthma is the most common chronic condition of childhood, but with the right routine, it’s fairly easy to manage. When routines get disrupted, though, it can quickly get out of control. The back-to-school transition can be a perfect storm.
“It’s not just schedules changing, but changes in levels of environmental triggers,” says Maria Bracamontes, an asthma educator with Children’s Hospital Colorado.
“Because asthma is often linked to seasonal allergies, changes in pollen levels and other irritants in the air can cause trouble as seasons change. Classrooms can be rife with triggers and exposure to respiratory illness. “Then, all of a sudden, kids are coming in having breathing problems.”
To avoid trips to the emergency department or worse, Bracamontes shares a few tips for getting back to school successfully.
Know your child’s asthma triggers
Every child with asthma has different triggers — environmental factors that set off an attack. Triggers often include allergens like pet hair, mold, dust and pollen, but they can also be as seemingly harmless as stuffed animals, blankets or strong-smelling candles or perfumes. Even sitting next to kids whose parents smoke can provoke a flare-up. Identifying and avoiding triggers, both at home and at school, is key to keeping attacks in check.
Get your child’s doctor and school on the same team
Every child’s asthma is different, so it’s key to enlist the help of a medical professional in determining a child’s triggers and the right combination of medications to keep them in check. With a health care provider's help, families can develop care plans to keep their asthma under control, in school and out.
In addition to mapping out a child’s asthma control routine during the week, a School Asthma Care Plan helps your child’s health care provider, teachers, school nurse and administrators work together to keep your child safe. Bracamontes recommends getting an Asthma Care Plan to your child’s school on or before the first day back.
In addition, make sure your child has quick access to an inhaler in case of a flare-up, whether it’s one they carry on them or, for younger kids, one they get from the school nurse.
Know the signs
In her work with Step Up Asthma Program — a partnership between Children’s Colorado and several Denver-area public school systems* — Bracamontes talks to many parents who don’t realize their child has asthma.
Signs and symptoms may include:
- Frequent cough
- Difficulty breathing with exercise
- Coughing during the night
- Shortness of breath
“I’ve had to learn from personal experience: This stuff does not go away,” says Bracamontes, whose daughter sustained lung damage at birth. It was severe enough that doctors gave her a 5% chance of survival. Now 14, she’s still living with asthma, and with careful management, she does fine.
“I think the most important thing we want families to understand,” Bracamontes says, “is that these kids can live perfectly normal lives.”
*The Step Up Asthma Program is funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Cancer, Cardiovascular and Chronic Pulmonary Disease Grants Program.