It can be hard for some parents to send their son or daughter off to school in the fall. It's especially hard to let go when the child has asthma or severe allergies, which parents know all too well have the potential to be life threatening. While asthma and allergies can be effectively managed in a school environment, parents have a key role to play.
Asthma affects more than 5.2 million school-aged children, according to the American Lung Association. And an increasing number of children have life-threatening allergies. To ensure the safety of these children, experts recommend that parents first do some investigating to find out what school official is responsible for administering medication and handling medical emergencies. Not every school has a nurse, or it may share a nurse with several other schools in the district. Likewise, state and district policies about a child's right to carry life-saving medication in school vary widely. This includes asthma inhalers, which act quickly to stop symptoms that can lead to an asthma attack, and small auto-injecting devices that administer epinephrine to reverse severe allergic reactions called anaphylactic shock.
Below, Sandra Fusco-Walker, the outreach education coordinator of Allergy and Asthma Network: Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) and the mother of three children with asthma, explains how parents can make sure their child with asthma or allergies is safe in school.
How can parents make sure the needs of their children are being met at school?
We recommend that parents approach the school in the summer and ask for the forms they need so their child can be identified as having asthma or allergies. If the school allows children to carry inhalers and auto-injectable epinephrine and the children are trained to use them, they should fill out those permission forms as well.
We recommend parents have an asthma action plan from their physician. That gives the parent instructions about how to take care of their child on a day-to-day basis, so they can relay that to the school. The plan should list each of their child's medications and note how much they're supposed to take and when they're supposed to take it.
The school also needs a set of all medication, labeled. Some schools don't allow children to carry an inhaler or auto-injectable epinephrine. But even if they do, the school should have one on the premises in case the child has forgotten or lost their medication.
If a child with asthma is able to use a device called a peak-flow meter, parents should provide one to the school and write down the child's normal range and what medication should be taken when results are out of range. The peak-flow meter measures the volume of air that you can blow out. When you're having asthma problems, your airways become inflamed and clogged with mucous. By the time you get to a full-blown asthma attack and you're coughing and wheezing and choking, all that swelling may have been going on for a while.
Parents can also list symptoms and early warning signs of an asthma attack because every child is different. Asthma is not always wheezing. Some children just cough. Some younger children make no sounds.
Likewise, asthma attacks can be triggered by allergens such as pet dander, dust or mold, and sometimes a child has seasonal asthma and allergies, so a parent needs to share that information with the school.
Parents should also provide exact instructions on what to do in case of an emergency such as what steps to take and who to call.