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)

It is important for children to attend as many days of school as possible so they can have a positive outlook on learning and being part of the school community.

  • 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.

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.

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

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 a referral to their physician for a proper diagnosis or a treatment update.


Managing Asthma
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

 Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, Inc.

Asthma and
The National Education Association Health Information Network with support from CDC