In this section: Asthma in Children | September Asthma Peak | Asthma At School

Asthma in Schools

Asthma affects over 850,000 children under the age of 14 in Canada and is the leading cause of school absences. For Canadian children, asthma is the most common long-term respiratory disease and accounts for more hospitalizations than any other chronic illness. In particular, exercise-induced asthma symptoms are common among children, adolescents, and young adults. Because some children with exercise-induces asthma tend to avoid play, parents and teachers sometimes never realize the student is experiencing symptoms during exercise.

Parents and school staff need to work together to help control asthma symptoms for all students with asthma. Children with asthma often have symptoms at school; therefore it is very important to get the school involved in caring for a child’s asthma. This is true even if the child has only a mild case of asthma and even for children who do not need to take medicines when they are at school. Most schools have several children with asthma, and so many teachers and principals may be very familiar with helping children with asthma. Still, it is important to take steps to ensure that students receive appropriate attention and that all the relevant school personnel are familiar with what is needed to help each child.

Getting Your Child Ready For Back To School

  • Develop or update a written Asthma Action Plan with your family doctor and make sure to provide a copy to your child’s school and teacher.
  • Speak to your child’s school about their asthma policies including inhaler use. Advocate to ensure that your child can carry their reliever medication with them at all times.
  • Identify your child’s asthma triggers and teach your child how best to avoid them.
  • Treat allergies with anti-histamines, nasal steroids, allergy shots or pills to help avoid an asthma attack. Speak with your doctor or allergist about the best allergy treatment option for your child.
  • Ensure that your child takes their asthma controller medication throughout the year, even when symptom-free. Make sure that they also always carry their reliever (rescue) medication and know how to use it.
  • Help your child understand their asthma, including teaching them how to use their medication properly and knowing how to monitor their symptoms.
  • Teach your child correct hand-washing technique and the importance of hand washing to avoid catching a cold.
  • If your children are sick, keep them home from school.
  • Ensure your child, and everyone in your home, has received their influenza (flu) vaccination.
  • Schedule regular asthma check-ups with your healthcare provider to ensure your child’s asthma is properly controlled. It’s especially important to have a check up right before back to school season and the September Asthma Peak.

There are over 20,000 hospitalizations for childhood asthma each year and many of them occur during the fall months. When children go back to school they face increased exposure to viral infections, which can trigger asthma symptoms. Respiratory infections are a powerful trigger for asthma symptoms, which are common in children and easily transmitted in the school environment.

Many children will also experience sleep disturbances due to asthma symptoms at night thereby leading to fatigue, and possible negative classroom behavior. If the deteriorating asthma control goes untreated, children with asthma often are absent from school which results in reduced academic standing.

What can you do?

Asthma Canada recommends the following steps to help your child achieve symptom-free asthma:

Step 1: Talk to your doctor, pharmacist and asthma educator about how to monitor your child’s asthma control.

Step 2: Ask your doctor about:

Step 3: Meet with staff from your child’s school to:

To find an asthma educator in your area, use our online Asthma Education Centre Locator tool.

Child Asthma Action Plan
The Student Asthma Action Plan is an excellent resource for managing your child’s asthma. It includes information about your child’s medication plans, signs of trouble and emergency steps to take.

Student Asthma Data Form
This is a form concerning your child’s medication needs and specific asthma warning signs. Along with the Asthma Action Plan, this form should be filled out by you and by your child’s primary care physician.

A copy of this card should then be given to the school staff members such as the teacher, principal and physical education instructor.

Download the Student Asthma Card.

Peak Flow Instructions
Peak flow monitoring is an alternative way to assist you in monitoring your child’s asthma condition.

Many children with asthma underestimate their asthma. Peak flow monitoring can be an important step for understanding their real condition and preventing or limiting asthma episodes. Along with advice from your child’s doctor and school nurse, these instructions will teach you and your child how to monitor peak flow.

Talk to your primary care physician about obtaining a peak flow meter for use at home. Talk to your child’s school nurse (if applicable) about the possibility of peak flow monitoring for your child at school.

For more general asthma resources and support, visit our resources page.

A Teacher’s Role In Asthma Management

Teachers play an important role in identifying the child with early warning signs of poor asthma control. Managing asthma appropriately will allow children with asthma to fully participate in school.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease affecting more than 12% of children. This means that in a classroom of thirty, at least three children will have asthma. Of those children with poor asthma control, 73% report that they limit their physical activity because of their asthma symptoms. When asthma is totally controlled children can participate in physical activity and are symptom-free.

There is a worrying lack of recognition by parents, children and school teachers of the early signs of asthma deterioration. This lack of recognition sometimes delays the preventive measures needed to avoid a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

The answer to these issues is education. Asthma Canada is providing tools to help teachers monitor, identify the child with early warning signs and symptoms of poor asthma control and how to best communicate this to parents.

Asthma Tips For Teachers

Teachers can help children with uncontrolled asthma get the help they need to take control of their disease. Teachers with proper asthma education are key to helping prevent fatal asthma attacks from occurring at schools. Below we have outlined some key tips for teachers to understand this chronic disease.

  • Understand Asthma: By knowing the signs and symptoms of asthma and of asthma attacks, teachers can help know when to take action by either speaking with a student’s parents, administering asthma medications, or calling 911.
  • Prepare For September Peak: The September back-to-school period brings a dramatic increase in hospitalizations for children with asthma, called the September Asthma Peak.
  • Talk With Parents: Asthma is a variable disease, meaning it’s different for everyone. When meeting with a student’s parent discuss their asthma, including their symptoms, triggers, severity, medications and Asthma Action Plan.
  • Have A Plan: Request a copy of your student’s Asthma Action Plan and know what it is, and how to use it to help a student manage their asthma.
  • Know What To Do In An Emergency: An asthma attack can come on suddenly and can be potentially life-threatening. Knowing what to do in the case of an asthma attack could save a student’s life.
  • Be Trigger Conscious: Being aware of common asthma triggers can allow you to alter planned class activities, or anticipate possible asthma flare-ups in students. Triggers like smoke, pollen, and cold air are all common triggers and can be avoided. On especially cold days or days with poor air quality opt for indoor recesses or activities.

Asthma Management in Schools – Best Practices
Patient-developed resource to educate parents, schools and children on the roles and responsibilities for asthma-friendly environments.

[English]    [French]

Letter to Parents
This letter is designed to assist teachers in communicating their observations of classroom behaviour that may indicate deteriorating asthma control, to parents.
[English]       [French]

Medication Tracking Form
This form will help teachers to record each time a student needs to use his/her blue inhaler for relief of asthma symptoms.

Sara’s Ready – Preparing for the September Asthma Peak
Back to School brings sick days and visits to the hospital for children. Learn how to avoid September Peak through proper asthma management.
[English]          [French]

The September Asthma Peak

Canadian researchers have found that the September back-to-school period brings a dramatic increase in hospitalizations for children with asthma. This increase starts after the return to school and reaches its peak in September. This period is now recognized as the September Asthma Peak.

Being ready for the September Asthma Peak is one way to help ensure that children will be spending more time with friends at school, and less time at home, or worse – in the emergency room of a hospital.

Asthma Canada is pleased to launch the Preventing the September Asthma Peak campaign to educate children, their caregivers and teachers about the significant spike in the number of children requiring hospital treatment as a result of asthma attacks during the month of September.

Working in conjunction with an educational consultant, Asthma Canada created classroom materials for grades four to six, which dovetail with the Ontario curriculum. The classroom materials offer teachers information on asthma as well as on the September Asthma Peak and lesson plans to help educate students. You can request the resources by emailing: info@asthma.ca.

For more general asthma resources and support, visit our resources page.

The knowledge that parents and school staff have of asthma can vary greatly among communities. Hosting an Asthma Awareness Event at a local school is a great way to provide information to parents and school staff and to address many issues around asthma management. It can also create an excellent forum for alleviating the concern that parents or teachers may have around appropriate asthma management in the school setting.

Asthma Canada encourages healthcare professionals (such as Certified Respiratory Educators and school nurses) to work together to conduct Asthma Awareness Events, as the partnerships that develop could evolve into a network of care and support for families of children with asthma.

Contact Asthma Canada for free resource material if you are planning an Asthma Awareness Event. We can provide: free Breathe Easy Booklets, sample Asthma Action Plans, asthma educational posters, referrals to qualified guest speakers, presentation overheads and speaker’s notes.

For more information, contact us at info@asthma.ca.

For more general asthma resources and support, visit our Resources page.

Asthma & Allergy Helpline

If you have questions about your child’s asthma, you can contact our free Asthma & Allergy HelpLine service to speak with a Certified Respiratory Educator and get personalized support.

September Peak

Back to School brings sick days and visits to the hospital for many children with asthma. Learn how to avoid the September Asthma Peak through proper asthma management.

Sara's Ready For School

Back to School brings sick days and visits to the hospital for children. Learn how to avoid September Peak through proper asthma management. [Click here to download in French].