SOURCE: American Lung Association

August 22, 2006 00:01 ET

Asthma Tops School Health Issues but Not Parents' Back-to-School Priorities

American Lung Association Poll Reveals Woeful Preparation Before Back-to-School Asthma Spikes

NEW YORK, NY -- (MARKET WIRE) -- August 22, 2006 --As millions of students with asthma pour back into the nation's classrooms over the next month, the startling results of an American Lung Association poll of parents of children with asthma reveal they are not taking basic steps to manage their child's asthma while at school. Less than one-third of those parents surveyed make sure their children are under medical supervision or talk to school administrators about their child's asthma, despite evidence that asthma emergency room and hospitalization rates spike in September -- a seasonal "back-to-school asthma" phenomenon.

According to the poll, 73 percent of parents of children with asthma report they are concerned about how their child's asthma will affect their ability to participate in school, yet the majority of those parents are not taking steps recommended by the American Lung Association to better manage their child's asthma. Less than half the parents polled talk to the teacher about their child's asthma (48 percent) or make sure the child's medicine is available at school (42 percent). Less than one-third make sure their child is under medical supervision (31 percent) or talk to the school administration about the child's health condition (27 percent).

Several studies have tracked increases in asthma attacks in September and October, not long after a new school year begins. More than six million children under 18 -- roughly three times the population of Houston, TX -- suffer from asthma, which can be life-threatening if not properly managed. It is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic conditions and the leading cause of hospitalizations in children under 15.

"Back-to-school asthma is a reality, so being prepared should be on parents' back-to-school list," said Norman H. Edelman, M.D., American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer. "Not taking basic steps like having a fast-acting medication available at school in case of an asthma attack or communicating with the school about your child's asthma could be setting the stage for an unmanageable medical crisis at school. Parents need to make sure their child's asthma is under control so that it doesn't worsen once they get back to school. Look for signs like coughing at night or not being able to keep up with other kids' physical activity, which may mean their asthma is not under control," said Dr. Edelman.

Asthma tends to be seasonal, and the back-to-school months herald the cold and virus season, when children return to close classroom quarters after having spent the summer apart from one another. Viruses are a leading asthma trigger, as well as allergens including those that peak in the fall, indoor pollutants, and outdoor air pollution, which can lead to ozone alert days in September and October in some areas of the country.(1, 2)

"We applaud the American Lung Association for working to raise awareness about back-to-school asthma," said Paul Houston, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators. "AASA is committed to ensuring that school leadership nationwide plays an active role in asthma management, working with parents to provide the safest learning environment for their children."

What can parents do to be prepared?

"Every child with asthma should have a written Asthma Action Plan, developed with the child's physician, that details that child's specific asthma triggers, medications, instructions regarding physical activity, like using an inhaler before strenuous exercise for some children, and an emergency plan," said Dr. Edelman. "Communication is critical to a child's asthma management at school. Take the Asthma Action Plan to school and discuss it with the nurse, classroom teacher and others such as physical education teachers who will be responsible for your child during the school day."

Other elements to preparing your child with asthma for school include being up-to-date on regular doctor's visits, having prescriptions updated and filled for the first day of school, and scheduling a flu shot now for your child to be immunized in October. Preventing influenza may reduce asthma episodes and trips to the emergency room; flu shots for people with asthma have been proven safe by American Lung Association clinical research.

Get involved

Parents should be involved in every aspect of managing their child's asthma. Consider getting further involved in your child's asthma management by:

--  Encouraging your child's school to reduce school bus emissions which
    have been shown to cause asthma episodes. Most buses use heavily polluting
    diesel engines; newer fuels and engines are cleaner. Many school systems
    are using the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean School Bus Campaign
    to clean up these dirty emissions. Schools are also not allowing school
    buses to idle at the building, to keep exhaust levels down.
--  Offering schools a quick tool for assessing their readiness to support
    students with asthma. The American Lung Association's free "How Asthma-
    Friendly Is Your School?" questionnaire (available on www.lungusa.org) can
    help guide parents and school staff to understand all elements of the
    school systems that can impact children with asthma.
--  Volunteering to serve on the school's Health Advisory Committee or
    work with your local Asthma Coalition to provide the school with asthma
    tools.
--  Participating in an American Lung Association Asthma Walk in your
    local community. Asthma Walks nationwide help to raise support for asthma
    research and education.
    

For more information, or to download an Asthma Action Plan, log on to www.lungusa.org or call 1-800-LUNG-USA.

About the American Lung Association

Beginning our second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Lung disease death rates continue to increase while other leading causes of death have declined. The American Lung Association funds vital research on the causes of and treatments for lung disease. With the generous support of the public, the American Lung Association is "Improving life, one breath at a time." For more information about the American Lung Association or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or log on to www.lungusa.org.

(1) Johnston, NW et al., The September Epidemic of Asthma Hospitalization: School Children as Disease Vectors. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. March 2006. Vol. 117(3); 557-562.

(2) Neidell, MJ. Air Pollution, Health and Socio-economic Status: The Effect of Outdoor Air Quality on Childhood Asthma. Journal of Health Economics. Novemeber 2004. Vol. 23(6); 1209-1236.

Contact Information

  • Contact:

    Ilana Tabak
    American Lung Association
    212-315-8760
    Email Contact

    Emma Mackinnon
    Fenton Communications
    212-584-5000
    Email Contact