Supporting students with asthma

Asthma is one of the leading causes for school absenteeism in children. This condition can have a significant impact on their general wellbeing, affecting them physically, emotionally, mentally and socially.  This has a detrimental impact on their educational outcomes, as well as their relationships with their peers. 

To support students with asthma to keep well and get the most out of their school experience and education, here are some practical tips to promote an asthma-safe learning environment

Know what asthma is, how to recognise a flare-up and what to do

Asthma is a long-term lung condition that affects a person’s airways. People with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs which react to triggers, causing them to constrict and swell, making it harder to breathe. This is called a ‘flare-up’ and often referred to as an asthma attack or exacerbation.  

An asthma flare-up can build slowly over time or quickly in a matter of minutes. Knowing asthma first aid can save someone’s life. If you see a flare-up starting, do not wait until it becomes severe to start asthma first aid.

Begin asthma first aid if a person has asthma symptoms of:

  • Breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Tight chest
  • Persistent cough

If a person is having difficulties speaking in full sentences, this is often a sign that their asthma is worsening. 

Read more about the signs of an asthma emergency and how to deliver Asthma First Aid.

Identify students with asthma and ensure they have a current Asthma Action Plan

Ensure you know which of your students have asthma and have a discussion with them or their parents/carers about their condition and management.

An Asthma Action Plan helps identify what to do when the person is well, unwell, or experiencing an asthma emergency.

Check that:

  • a copy of your student’s Asthma Action Plan is accessible to all staff at the school, especially during emergencies
  • the student’s Asthma Action Plan is updated every year and/or when there are changes to their symptoms or triggers

Preparation for returning to school

The beginning of each school term sees a rise in children admitted to hospital due to their asthma. Commonly referred to as, ‘the back to school asthma spike’, this sudden increase is often found to be a result of:

  • a change to their routine of asthma management over the school holidays
  • emotional and physical stress of returning to school
  • environmental allergens around the school and school grounds
  • the close proximity of other children in school environments and increased risk of transmission of viral infections

As a new term begins, be extra alert for the signs of a flare-up and take the appropriate steps to minimise the risks of exposure to triggers in your classroom.

Check their asthma medication and know where it is kept at school

In the event of an asthma flare-up it is critical that you are able to access their medication quickly. It is equally important to ensure that their medication is in date (not expired) and not empty before an asthma emergency arises.

Check with the student throughout the year that they have sufficient medication on hand.

Asthma preventer medication should only be needed once or twice a week.  If you notice or they mention that they are using their reliever more than twice a week (unless having it before playing sport), we recommend they see their doctor for a review.

Be aware of triggers and how you can help students to manage them

A trigger is something that sets off asthma symptoms, and they can be different for each person. Take time to learn what your student’s triggers are. 

There are common triggers that may be more specific to the school setting such as:

  • Stress
  • Exercise-induced asthma
  • Dust
  • Chemicals i.e. paint, glue, textures
  • Aerosols, air fresheners and perfumes

It is important to work to eliminate or minimise exposure to triggers where possible and keep an eye on your students if you see symptoms of a flare-up. Keeping your classroom clean and dust-free, with a ‘No Aerosol Policy’ can help reduce exposure for some students.

Our Classroom Ready Checklist has some useful tips on reducing risks and exposure.

Other important things you need to know

Allergic Rhinitis (hay fever)

Approximately 80% of people with asthma also experience hay fever.  If hay fever is not well controlled, flare-ups of asthma can occur.

Exposure to germs in the classroom

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness for all of us of the importance of hygiene in our surroundings.  Reducing student exposure to germs will also help prevent students from getting sick, which can cause asthma complications and flare-ups. Some easy ways to do this include:

  • Encouraging students to wash their hands regularly with soap and to use hand sanitiser
  • Encouraging students to practice cough and sneezing etiquette – ‘germ etiquette’
  • Encouraging all students to stay away from school if unwell

Keep up to date on school’s Asthma Management Policy

Each school will have different policies in place for medical and emergency management. Be sure to stay up to date on your school’s Asthma Management Policies, including where asthma medication is stored and how it is accessed.

We highly recommend that schools have an Asthma Emergency Kit included in their First Aid Kit. If your school does not have an Asthma Emergency Kit, check out our Asthma WA Shop for some options or call us on (08) 9289 3600 to discuss what you may need.

Communicate with your students

Have discussions with your students about their asthma and ensure they feel confident in talking to you when they need help. Anxiety and depression are not uncommon, and students will benefit from knowing know you are there to support them.

How Asthma WA can help

Our experienced team of Respiratory Health Nurses and Educators can help you and your school to better understand asthma, symptoms, triggers, medication and asthma first aid. Call our team on (08) 9289 3600 to book a professional development education session for you, or the staff at your school.

*image courtesy of Pexels

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