Asthma is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases among children in the United States, leading to more than 10 million missed days of school every year. With nearly 1 in 2 children with asthma missing at least one day of school a year due to asthma complications, the Center for Disease Control’s National Asthma Control Program (NACP) has worked hard to try and promote asthma-friendly schools. By creating safe and supportive learning environments for students with asthma through various policies and procedures, the NACP has made it easier for students to manage and understand their disease. Throughout the 2000s, the NACP and the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health funded a wide range of asthma control strategies in urban school districts across the country and created tools to assist in program planning and monitoring. In addition, the CDC created resources to help students and schools become more asthma-friendly, such as the video “Creating an Asthma-Friendly School” and a web-based guidance document entitled “Strategies for Addressing Asthma Within a Coordinated School Health Program,” which provides schools with suggestions for improving the health and attendance of students with asthma.
The NACP’s school-based activities include school-based asthma management, self-management education for students, indoor air quality and asthma trigger reduction, educational training for school employees, and information on medication self-carry laws and laws related to asthma medication administration. CDC-funded asthma surveillance systems allow states to monitor asthma-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits and identify regions where high-health risk students can benefit from further education.
The NACP has implemented several school-based activities and programs to help improve asthma education, including:
- School-based asthma management programs that work with state agencies and school districts to ensure that laws related to self-carry for asthma medication are implemented appropriately. These programs also help develop standardized asthma action plans for school nurses and make Certified Asthma Educators available to help implement new programs to help students and personnel learn to manage the disease.
- Programs to train students in asthma self-management are empowering children and helping them learn to take control of their disease. Using validated criteria, such as the American Lung Association's Open Airways for Schools program or the Breathe to Achieve program, students learn about asthma, triggers, and proper management protocol.
- Indoor air quality and asthma trigger reduction programs support the implementation of the EPA's Indoor Air Quality Guidelines, help school districts improve the air quality in school, and reduce common asthma triggers found in buildings.
The NACP has also created state programs that work with schools to institute school bus and automobile anti-idling policies that reduce student exposure to vehicle emissions in school drop-off and pick-up areas. There are also programs that notify administration of poor outdoor air quality days so that children with asthma can take the appropriate action to reduce their exposure to outdoor pollution.
State asthma programs have also partnered with other agencies and the NACP to provide training and professional development opportunities for school staff, board members, administrators, and teachers so that they can learn about asthma and indoor air quality and how they can integrate environmental and health education into the school curriculum. These programs also provide important lessons on how to identify and respond to the signs of an asthma attack.
Another important program created the Coaches’ Asthma Clipboard, which provides athletic and physical education staff with information on how to recognize the signs of an asthma attack in student athletes and respond to an attack in an appropriate manner.
Successful school-based asthma programs will target students who are most in need of care and education and help them learn to manage their disease. With a cooperative and willing administration, schools can improve a student’s chances of effectively managing their disease and improving their health, reducing missed days of school. With a coordinated, multi-component and collaborative approach that includes school nursing staff, teachers, and school administration, awareness about indoor air quality, asthma triggers, at-risk students, and other key factors can be raised, leading to a reduction in asthma-related doctor visits and hospitalizations for students with asthma.