Asthma at School

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asthma is one of the leading causes of school absence due to illness. Parents and school staff members can play an important role in helping students manage their asthma at school.

Asthma Caregivers (parents, families, caregivers)

To learn, to be part of the school community and to have a positive outlook on life at school, it is important for children to attend as many days of school as possible.

  • Be sure your child sees a doctor on a regular basis.
  • Keep medications up to date.
  • Be certain your child knows how to administer control and emergency medications or who to ask for help when they need it.
  • Send your child to school healthy! Remove asthma triggers from your home such as: dust, scented items, animal dander, strong cleaning products and other chemicals.
  • Quit smoking! Even if you smoke outside, smoke remains on your clothing and can be a trigger for asthma.
  • If you have problems with mold or cockroaches in your home, contact the health department for assistance in removing them.

Communicating with Your Child’s School

Meet with your child’s teacher, the school nurse and other responsible staff at the start of every school year. Make certain everyone understands your child’s health care needs as discussed with their doctor.

  • Share the history of your child’s asthma.
  • Provide contact information for your child’s doctor.
  • Have your child’s Asthma Action Plan on file in your child’s school.
  • Review your child’s Asthma Action Plan with the teacher and the school nurse.
  • For younger children, be sure a responsible adult knows how to administer your child’s control and emergency medications.
  • Learn if your child can carry his/her medications with him/her at school.
  • If not, talk with the school nurse about where your child should keep their inhaler and rescue medications. Medication should be readily available, convenient and retrieving it should not make the child feel s/he is being disruptive or holding up his/her classmates from an activity.
  • Learn the school’s rules about medication and be certain your child understands what they should do when they need medications.
  • Ask the teacher to explain asthma to the other children so that your child feels comfortable with his/her health care needs around their classmates.

Teachers, Coaches and Other School Staff

Effective asthma management in school can help improve a child’s learning environment, reduce absences, reduce classroom disruptions and help children feel safe at school. School staff needs to know which children have asthma and understand their individual needs regarding their asthma. A well-informed school staff will know:

  • Basic background information on asthma, including common triggers or stimuli that cause asthma episodes
  • Ways to effectively manage asthma in school
  • When to use control medications
  • How to discuss a child’s needs with his/her caregiver
  • How to reach the child’s physician
  • The location of each child’s Asthma Action Plan
  • How to administer rescue medications
  • How to keep a classroom free of common triggers and stimuli

Early Warning Signs of an Asthma Episode

Early warning signs usually happen before more symptoms occur. These signs should alert students and teachers that it is time to measure the student’s peak flow and take medications according to the action plan. These early warning signs should be documented in the student’s Action Plan. Teachers should be aware of each student’s early signs and symptoms and enable students with asthma to take the proper steps to prevent more serious asthma trouble.

Recognizing the early warning signs of an asthma episode can avoid a more serious medical emergency. There should be no delay once a student has notified the teacher of a possible problem.

A student may have one or more of these symptoms during the initial phase of an asthma attack.

1. Change in breathing

Early signs may include:

  • Coughing.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Throat tightness.
  • Breathing through the mouth.

Later signs may include:

  • Wheezing.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Rapid breathing.

2. Verbal Complaints

Often a student who is familiar with asthma will know that an episode is about to happen. The student might tell the teacher:

  • “My chest is tight.”
  • “My chest hurts.”
  • “I cannot catch my breath.”
  • “My mouth is dry.”
  • “My neck feels funny.”
  • “My chin (or neck) itches” (The student may rub his or her chin or neck in response to this feeling.)
  • Students may also use “clipped” speech (very short choppy sentences).

Source: Managing Asthma: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education

Look for children with uncontrolled asthma:

  • Lingering cough after a cold
  • Persistent cough during the day
  • Coughing during the night or early in the morning
  • Coughing or wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath after vigorous physical activity or activity in cold or windy weather
  • Low level of stamina during physical activity or reluctance to participate
  • Coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath even though the child is taking medicine for asthma
  • Increased use of asthma medicine to relieve coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath

Advise the school nurse if you suspect poorly controlled or undiagnosed asthma in a student so they can discuss the situation with the parent(s) or guardian(s) and suggest referral to their physician for a proper diagnosis or treatment update.

Does your child have breathing problems?
If your child would answer yes to one of the above symptoms of uncontrolled asthma, they should receive additional asthma screening from his/her doctor.


Managing Asthma, A Guide for Schools

Source: National Asthma Education and Prevention Program July 2003; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Asthma Community Network

Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, Inc.

Asthma and

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

Coach’s Asthma Clipboard

National Pesticides Information Center

National School Boards Association

Minnesota Air Quality Guidance for Schools & Child Care Facilities on Poor Air Quality Days for Ozone and Fine Particles

Children’s Books
(available to order through bookstores):

  • The ABC’s of Asthma by Kim Gosselin, JayJo Books (age 5-7)
  • All About Asthma by William Ostrow and Vivian Ostrow (ages 7-11)
  • The Babysitter’s Club: Welcome to the BSC, Abby by Ann M. Martin (ages 11-15)
  • I’m Tougher Than Asthma by Alden R. Carter and Siri M. Carter (ages 5-10)
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Champion Athlete (ages 13-17)
  • Kids Breathe Free: A Parent’s Guide for Treating Children with Asthma by Prichett & Huff Associates, Inc. (parents and children ages 5-9)
  • The Lion Who Has Asthma by Jonathan London (ages 5-7)
  • Once Upon a Breath: The Story of a Wolf, 3 Pigs and Asthma by Aaron Zevy, Tumbleweed Press
  • The Respiratory System by Darlene Stille, Children’s Press
  • Sporterecise! by Lim Gosselin (teachers and thildren ages 6-9)
  • Taking Asthma to School by Kim Gosselin, JayJo Books (teachers and children ages 6-9)
  • ZooAllergy by Kim Gosselin, JayJo Books (ages 6-9)

Resources, including websites, are mentioned in this guide as suggestions and examples and are only a few of the resources available. Listings of materials and resources in this guide should not be construed or interpreted as an endorsement by The Breathing Association.