Foundation Seeks To Boost Schools Awareness of Asthma
In response to the growing number of children who have asthma, a private group has joined forces with federal officials to teach educators about the causes of and treatments for the chronic disease.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America is set later this month to begin distributing an informational poster about asthma to schools across the country.
"I think most school personnel, just like the general population, are unaware about asthma," said Mary Worstell, the foundation's executive director.
The group developed the poster together with officials from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the President's Council on Physical Fitness.
Health officials estimate that at least 10 million Americans--one third of them under age 18--have asthma.
In recent years, the number of children with the disease, especially black children, has been on the upswing. Between 1983 and 1985, 4.4 percent of white children and 5.6 percent of black children had asthma, government statistics show. Between 1988 and 1990, however, the rate increased to 5.4 percent of white children and 7 percent of black children.
Experts said that better diagnosis of the disease, along with a rise in indoor-air pollution, may be responsible for the upsurge in cases.
Although medication can control asthma, many children are not receiving it, federal statistics show. Between 1979 and 1987, there was a 43 percent increase in the percentage of children who were hospitalized for asthma. And black children, the statistics show, are more likely than white children to be hospitalized for and to die from asthma. Despite the higher prevalence of the disease, asthma experts say, teachers and other educators often are unaware of the symptoms of and treatments for asthma, a chronic illness in which the airways become temporarily narrowed or blocked when affected by a "trigger," which could include exercise, cold air, or allergens.
Many school officials, they note, do not know that most children who are treated for asthma can participate in physical activities. The experts also say that educators sometimes do not take the physical complaints of asthmatic students seriously, which can lead to a medical emergency.
A new guide developed by the National Asthma Education Program, which is run by the heart, lung, and blood institute, and the U.S. Education Department aims to increase asthma awareness in schools.
According to the guide, which will be sent to school officials later this month, educators should know the early warning signs of asthma, one of the leading causes of school absences. These include shortness of breath, coughing, increased breathing rate, and wheezing.
Educators should also know that asthma medications can cause children to be drowsy or tired, it says.
Schools, the guide says, should develop plans for dealing with children who have an asthma attack, including a list of medications that the child should receive and emergency phone numbers.
It says schools should develop policies that allow asthmatics to receive medication when they need it. Children with asthma, experts say, can participate in physical education if they take their medication at least 20 minutes before class. But many pupils feel embarrassed about having to leave their previous class early in order to receive the medication from a school nurse, experts note.
Ms. Worstell and others also noted that many schools forbid children with asthma and other chronic diseases to carry their own medication. At the same time, many districts have cut back on the number of school nurses they hire, making it difficult to ensure that these children are properly medicated.
Vivian Haines, the coordinator of health services for the Council Rock, Pa., school district, said the junior high school she works in, which has 40 known asthmatics out of a student population of 950, is highly sensitive to the needs of these children. But others schools, she said, are not.
"We know that in some schools, the secretary is taking care of children with asthma," she said.