School and Asthma

Having asthma can be tough. You might feel different from your friends. You might get angry that you have to think about your breathing and remember your rescue medicine wherever you go. You might even feel lonely because it seems like you're the only one who has a problem.

But lots of teens have asthma. And by keeping it under control, you reduce the risk of having a bad flare-up and having to rush off to the school nurse, your doctor's office, or the emergency department.

Take Charge

Taking the medicine your doctor has prescribed — exactly as he or she prescribed it — is the best way to control asthma. Your doctor will work with you to create and implement an asthma action plan that takes into account your school schedule and activities. This written plan may include all your medications and when and how you should take them, things to watch out for that can trigger an asthma flare-up, early symptoms of a flare-up, what to do if you have a flare-up, and when to seek emergency care.

The plan might also tell you how and when to use a peak flow meter and tips about asthma and exercise.

Your doctor will talk to you about how to make the action plan work best for you, including what you can do to make treatment at school less of a hassle. For example, you may be able to take controller medications at home so you don't have to bother with remembering them at school. You'll want your rescue medicine with you at school, of course.

Tips for School

You can also take these steps to help get a handle on your asthma at school:

Talk to your teachers, coaches, and friends. The more people who know about your asthma, the more help you'll have in coping with it. You don't have to make a big deal about it, but letting people know means they can help you out.

For example, your homeroom teacher will understand your request to close the windows when the pollen count is high and your gym teacher will know that you can't run outside in really cold weather. And by telling your friends, you may find you're not as alone as you thought — millions of teens have asthma, and some of your classmates probably do, too.

Make sure your school has a copy of your action plan. The school office and health office should both have copies of your plan, and so should the athletic department if you play any sports. In some cases, you may want to discuss the plan with coaches or the school nurse.

Figure out the best way to follow your plan. Some schools let teens carry their medications with them, whereas others require them to be kept at the health office. The school nurse or your teacher may be able to suggest ways of fitting treatment into the school day. For instance, maybe they can suggest a good time and place for you to take a peak flow meter reading.

Do the best you can to manage triggers. You don't control your school environment, so it can be tougher to manage triggers there. But there are a few things you can do. If you have exercise-induced asthma, make sure you have access to your rescue medications before and during gym class. If chalk dust, cigarette smoke, pollen, or mold are a problem, let a teacher or the school nurse know. Exposure to these often can be reduced or eliminated.

And being able to relax and take control in stressful situations can help you avoid flare-ups. Knowing how to prevent and control asthma flare-ups can take away a lot of the fear and frustration you might feel when they happen. And being prepared for tests and learning relaxation techniques can help you avoid flare-ups related to test stress.

Don't assume you can't play sports. Asthma affects more than 20% of elite athletes, and 1 in every 6 Olympic athletes, including gold medal winners. So there's no reason you should have to skip sports, gym classes, and other physical activities. But you'll definitely want to talk with your doctor about sports participation, so you'll know manage things.

Here are some tips:

  • Make sure your gym teacher and any coaches understand your asthma and its triggers. They can help you make adjustments like running indoors instead of outdoors when the pollen or mold count is high.
  • If you need to rest or stop and use your medication, do it. Your teammates would rather have you healthy and able to fully participate.
  • Don't feel bad if you have to sit out a game or practice. If you're having symptoms (even if it's just a common cold), you shouldn't work out until you feel better. This isn't being wimpy — it's managing your asthma.

Focus on Flare-Ups

Following your action plan should mean you don't have flare-ups very often. Chances are, though, that you won't be able to prevent every single flare-up. That means you always need to be prepared for one, especially at school.

Learn how you feel when a flare-up is coming on — do you have a tight chest? Do you feel tired? Do you have a cough, even though you don't have a cold? Are you wheezing? If you have a peak flow meter, this might be a good time to use it (again, a quick duck into the health office or locker room can make this easier).

If you feel the symptoms of a flare-up, get the help you need. This means you should always have access to your inhaler — either in your backpack or the health office — and you should use it if you need to. Let people around you know what is happening. Don't ignore the attack or hope it will go away on its own. Take charge of it and you'll be breathing easier soon.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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