Asthma can have a major impact on your child’s participation and success in school. It is important to prepare your preteen or teenager for managing asthma when you aren’t there to help them.

They should know what to do and how to work with teachers and other faculty during an asthma attack.

If your preteen or teen is living with asthma, they are definitely not alone. In an average classroom of 30 students, about 3 students will have asthma.

A 2019 study found that asthma accounted for 14 to 18 percent of absenteeism in two large urban schools.

Older research has also looked into this.

In 2013, American children between the ages of 5 and 17 missed a combined 13.8 million days of school, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And in 2008, American students with asthma missed an average of 4 school days, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Several factors can cause students with asthma to be absent. Students might miss school if they are:

  • experiencing symptoms
  • attending doctor’s appointments
  • avoiding triggers present in the school setting

Your child’s school might not be aware of asthma’s impact on student health, attendance records, and potential academic success.

Here are some steps you can take to help ensure your preteen or teenager with asthma has a safe and productive year at school.

Know the school’s care team

Whether your child is entering a new school or returning to the same one, it can help to get to know their school nurse.

The American Lung Association (ALA) suggests that school nurses and other staff should:

  • keep a list of all students with asthma
  • keep an asthma action plan on file
  • make sure asthma medication is easily accessible

Setting up a one-on-one meeting with the school nurse or other health personnel may help your child get the best care. It can show the staff you are involved in your child’s health and will hold them accountable for your child’s care in the event of an asthma attack.

Create an asthma action plan for an attack

An asthma action plan is an individualized, physical sheet of instructions that says what to do to keep asthma from getting worse if symptoms begin. Go over this plan with your preteen or teenager, and make sure they have it on hand at school.

According to the ALA, some information you may note on your child’s asthma action plan includes:

  • list of potential triggers
  • specific names of each medication your child takes
  • list of symptoms or peak flow measurements that indicate worsening asthma
  • medications they should take based on symptoms or peak flow measurements
  • telephone numbers of emergency contacts, your local hospital, and your child’s healthcare professional
  • list of symptoms or peak flow measurements that indicate your child needs emergency medical attention

In addition to or instead of an asthma action plan, you may want to consider other options, such as:

  • Emergency care plan (ECP). An ECP is a medical plan your child’s doctor writes that outlines what the school should do during an asthma attack or when symptoms start to increase.
  • Individual healthcare plan (IHCP). An IHCP is a nursing plan that typically includes an ECP and provides clear instructions on what the school will do to establish and maintain a safe environment for your child.
  • 504 plan. This is a legally binding document written by the school and a student’s family that outlines what a school will do to establish and maintain a safe environment, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

Make sure medication is available

One of the most important steps you can take is to make sure your child has the medications they need with them at all times.

All 50 states have laws in place to allow your child to carry and administer their own rapid relief inhaler, according to the ALA. Fifteen states require schools to stock and provide bronchodilators for students who need them.

Despite these laws, some students are still being denied easy access to rescue inhalers, the ALA says.

It is important that you talk with your child’s school nurse or other staff about how they handle and administer asthma treatment, including rescue inhalers and other preventive medications your child may need to take during the day.

Educate teachers and faculty

Although there is a high prevalence of asthma in school-age children, not all school staff may be aware of asthma symptoms and triggers.

Make sure your child’s teachers have copies of any action plans or health plans. Having a conversation with them may also help avoid confusion if your child has any severe or worsening symptoms during the school day and needs to take action.

School administration can also take steps to educate staff members. The ALA offers a program called Asthma Basics. The program is designed to help healthcare professionals, like school nurses, and others learn about:

  • asthma symptoms
  • signs of asthma attacks
  • treatment
  • other important information about asthma

Go over expectations and plans with your child

Whether you are used to taking charge of your child’s asthma or they are well versed in their own asthma care, they may benefit from reviewing their plans and expectations before entering the school setting.

This review may include:

  • making sure they know how to use their inhaler
  • helping them remember any medication schedule they need to follow
  • teaching them how to advocate for their needs with teachers or other school staff
  • identifying their triggers

If you need help figuring out what to discuss with your child, the ALA offers two asthma education programs aimed at students. For children ages 8 to 11, they offer the Open Airways for Schools program. For preteens and teens ages 11 to 16, they offer a program called Kickin’ Asthma.

Both programs can help your child learn more about their condition and triggers, find additional support, and become self-advocates.

Know your child’s rights

In some cases, an asthma action plan or IHCP may not be enough to protect your child’s interests. Some students living with asthma may qualify for a 504 plan that can provide some legal protection, according to the AAFA.

Any student attending a school that receives federal funding can qualify for and set up a 504 plan, as long as they meet the eligibility criteria. The plan helps ensure a school does not discriminate against or exclude a student living with a disability.

In the case of asthma, it could prompt the school to make the environment safer, such as by installing filtration systems or offering specific accommodations so your child can safely attend.

To qualify for a 504 plan, your child must have a diagnosed disability and get evaluated by school staff to determine their eligibility.

Not all people living with asthma qualify as having a disability. Your child may qualify if they miss many school days or can’t participate in activities due to their asthma.

Having a 504 plan gives you and your child the right to due process if the school does not make appropriate accommodations for their asthma. Schools that don’t follow 504 plans can lose federal funding until they comply with the plan.

If your child has another disability aside from asthma that qualifies for 504 services, you should consider having their asthma IHCP added to the plan. Adding the IHCP will give you the same legal protections as having a specific 504 plan in place.

Preparing your preteen or teenager with asthma for school is a big part of taking care of their health needs.

This preparation may include educating your child and the school faculty, making sure they have the medication they need on hand or at the school, and creating an emergency health plan.

Taking these actions will help ensure they can safely attend school. If an asthma attack occurs, your child, teachers, and other school staff will know what to do.