In most children, asthma is a mild disease. Asthma attacks can be very frightening to both the person with asthma and those who care for them. Attacks can cause breathlessness which often leads to a high level of anxiety in the child. It is therefore important to keep calm yourself when caring for a child with asthma and also keep the child as calm as possible.
School children are usually able to understand their own signs and symptoms of asthma, so it is important to listen to children when they say they are experiencing asthma, even if you don’t think they look as if they are having difficulty breathing. Asthma is a very individual condition and the signs and symptoms vary from person to person.
Some children with asthma can experience problems keeping up with schoolwork if they have many days off school with asthma (asthma is the most common reason for school absenteeism). Teachers should monitor children’s academic progress and social interaction carefully and address any issues as they arise.
Teachers can encourage parents to take their children to a doctor if they believe a child’s asthma is not under control. This can be evident in many ways such as:
- Using a blue reliever medication more than three times a week (other than pre-medicating before exercise)
- Frequently having time off school with asthma
- Not joining in activities
Children should be encouraged to participate in all activities, but if asthma is inhibiting a student from joining in, the child’s asthma treatment should be reviewed.
Teachers are likely to see children with exercise-induced asthma, since 80% of people with asthma experience asthma symptoms during or following exercise. Those with exercise-induced asthma should always warm up before exercise and cool down following it. The doctor may prescribe a blue reliever medication to be used five to 10 minutes before exercise. If someone has asthma symptoms during sport they should rest and take their blue reliever medication (using advice from their written Asthma Action Plan). If the asthma symptoms subside they can return to their activity, however if they experience further symptoms they should stop exercising for the day, take their medication again and follow up with a visit to their doctor.
School staff should be aware that children can have asthma attacks anywhere, so it is important to be prepared with an Asthma Emergency kit. The kit should contain a blue asthma reliever medication (Airomir, Asmol, Bricanyl, Epaq or Ventolin), a spacer, alcohol swabs and instructions on Asthma First Aid and should be taken with you wherever there are children, such as sporting activities, excursions or camps.
Effects on those close to the child / young person
Many parents contact the Asthma Foundation of Victoria because of concerns coping with their child’s condition. Some parents report being very anxious about their child with asthma, especially when they are first diagnosed, or after a severe attack. It is understandable that some of these parents become over protective towards their child and find it difficult to leave their child in the care of others. On the other hand, some parents can be very blasé about the care of their child with asthma and underestimate the severity and the need for management of their child’s condition.
Teachers and school staff can also experience stress and fear associated with caring for a child with asthma. The Asthma Foundation of Victoria developed the Asthma Friendly Schools Program to provide education, resources and support for teachers and school staff, to educate them about the treatment of asthma and how to provide asthma first aid. Research following the introduction of the Asthma Friendly Schools Program in Victoria has shown that teachers feel less stress and are more confident to care for children with asthma following asthma education.
Children spend a lot of time with peers during their school days, so it is important to teach children about asthma. Children can assist someone with asthma by asking an adult to help if their friend is having an asthma attack. Older peers can also learn asthma first aid and assist someone having a severe attack by knowing how to carry out asthma first aid. The Asthma Foundation of Victoria provides free curriculum resources to both primary and secondary school children (see Further Resources).
“In their shoes”
Stories from children / young people with the condition
“I had really bad asthma when I was a baby. I was in and out of hospital all the time but when I was about 7 my asthma went and I stopped taking my inhaler with me. However when I was 13 I was running in my school race when my chest closed up. I didn’t know what to do. I tried shouting but I couldn’t get my breath. My friend ran to me and called the teacher over. The teacher came and my mate told her I was having an asthma attack so the teacher called 999. My mate had asthma as well so she knew what to do. She gave me her inhaler to use. It worked a little bit just till help came then I was taken to hospital. I am now 15 and at first I didn’t want to use my spacer (aerochamber) and inhalers in front of people but because they save your life it doesn’t matter what people say. Just think instead that if you don’t have your inhaler and spacer/aerochamber (if you use one) you might have to suffer an asthma attack.”
“I’m a thirteen year old student in high school and have pretty severe asthma. I was in a year eight P.E. lesson with a relief teacher. I was told to do the’ beep test’ (20 metre multistage fitness test) and that I could not sit out. I complained of having a tight chest and my asthma was becoming worse and worse but she still made me do it. When she said ‘go’, just to be smart, I walked and did not make it to the other line in time. She yelled at me and told me to stop being a Smart Alec. I kept doing this but I finally dropped out and said ‘Mrs, I seriously need to get my asthma puffer, as I forgot to bring it here.’ She said ‘I know you don’t have asthma and are trying to get out of my class.’ While she was watching the other students, I grabbed my friend and walked to the office. When she saw me head up the stairs she yelled ‘you get back here this instant’. So we just ran to the office. By this time I COULD NOT BREATH and fell to the floor, my friend watching in horror. The last thing I remember is waking up (apparently 7 days later) surrounded by my family and doctors in an ‘intensive care’ room. I was on a drip, had many cords and plugs connected to me and I felt light headed. I have really bad / severe asthma and now am not allowed to participate in any sport, except swimming. Miraculously my P. E. teacher ‘left’ the school. Asthma is not fun to have.It should be taken seriously. I have regular attacks and it needs to be cured.”
“Having asthma does not make me different from any other teenager. My choice in sports and activities is not limited in any way and does not differ from anyone else. However at times when my asthma is out of control I feel breathless and wheezy and very frightened. Sometimes I do not want to use my medication at school, as I feel embarrassed. I have had to go to hospital when my asthma was really bad and I have missed a lot of school over the years with my asthma. My asthma seems to get bad when I get a cold or chest infection and during the winter. I also get asthma when I am near people who are smoking and that can be hard when I go to parties with my friends. My Mum annoys me the way she makes sure I have my medication with me every time I go out, but I guess she is worried that I might need it. My life is good and me and my asthma just tag along. I am a normal 17 year old girl enjoying an active fun life to my full potential.”
“I had asthma when I was younger. It frightened me and it frightened my Mum when I couldn’t breathe. I changed primary schools because of asthma. At my first school none of the teachers seemed to care and no-one helped when I got into trouble breathing. My Mum got cross because she had told them what needed to be done a lot of times. I went to an ‘Asthma Friendly School’ and it was different. The first time something happened in class, the teacher dropped everything and got my medication.
My asthma has improved as I got older. I am 13 now and in secondary college. I don’t even get asthma if I get a cold, but I still remember what it was like not to breathe.”
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