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Asthma Alert

Are You Ready to Assist an Asthmatic Student Who Can't Breathe?

Dave Arnold

You never know what education support professionals (ESP) will talk about when they get together. I was sharing a morning break with a group of ESPs during the National Education Association's ESP Conference in Philadelphia, held earlier this month.

They hailed from different parts of the country and represented different job categories, genders and ethnic groups. They were smart and fun. Though we hadn't met before, conversation came easy.

We ended up discussing students with asthma. It seemed that everyone had noticed an increase in asthma cases at their schools. We confessed to having varying degrees of expertise on how to handle asthma emergencies.

Some in the group knew who had asthma in their schools while others didn't. Only a few knew how to use a rescue inhaler. Some were aware of common asthma triggers while others were clueless. No one person seemed to know everything you need to know about students with asthma.

Thousands Affected

I expect this is the case at most schools. Some ESPs, teachers and administrators might know one thing, while others will know another. It's important for ESPs to know as much as possible. The American Lung Association (ALA) can help.

According to the ALA, asthma incidents have nearly doubled since 1980. In the U.S., more than 10 million school days are lost each year because of asthma, which also causes over 5,000 deaths annually.

Every day, thousands of children experience asthma problems in the classroom, playground, school bus, and at athletic events. Although most experiences are controllable, some require medical treatment. The following conditions often trigger episodes of asthma:

  • Exercise (running can trigger an episode in over 80 percent of children with asthma)
  • Infections (respiratory infections frequently trigger sever episodes of asthma)
  • Allergy (allergic children suffer reactions to ordinarily harmless material such as pollen, mold, certain food, and animals)
  • Irritants (cigarette smoke, air pollution, strong odors, aerosol sprays, and paint fumes can produce the reactions as allergens)
  • Weather (many identify cold air as triggering asthma)
  • Emotions (emotional factors are not the cause of asthma, however, emotional stress may trigger asthma)

What Do You Know?

How adept are you at handling students with asthma? Try responding to the following ALA quiz. The questions are true or false.

  1. Asthma is usually not reversible.
  2. Avoiding allergy exposure is of little or no benefit in treating childhood asthma.
  3. The presence of asthma indicates the child is emotionally disturbed.
  4. Antibiotics such as penicillin or erythromycin are required for asthma episodes due to infection.
  5. Children with asthma usually develop emphysema as adults.

Each statement is false.

Learn More

To help educate the public, ALA sponsors a program called "Asthma 101." It includes a pamphlet about asthma basics, and an onsite workshop which can be scheduled at your school or Association. To learn if this service is offered in your area, call 1-800-586-4872 and ask about local programs and services. You can also visit ALA  online.

If schools won't take the time to educate employees about asthma, then we must educate ourselves! As the ALA says, "When you can't breathe, nothing else matters."

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.