Asthma is one of the most common and serious diseases affecting children. In the United States, 7.1 million, or one in every ten children, have asthma and 4.1 million experienced an attack or episode in 2011. Continuing its efforts to raise awareness about the impact of childhood asthma on school attendance, the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) is partnering with Attendance Works during national Attendance Awareness Month.
This event occurs each September and recognizes the connection between school attendance and academic achievement. When students miss 10 percent or more of school days, they are chronically absent. Estimates indicate 5 million to 7.5 million students in the nation are at academic risk because of their continuing absence. Absences may be excused or unexcused, but both negatively impact academic success. Chronic illnesses, such as asthma, can make the number of missed school days number skyrocket.
Taking steps to control your child’s asthma now is one of the easiest ways to help your child’s academic success. While asthma cannot be cured, knowing its symptoms and how to prevent attacks will improve life for asthmatics and their family members.
Know the signs and symptoms
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung condition where the airways become blocked or narrowed. It presents as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, wheezing and coughing. If symptoms are severe enough, your child may require medical attention to help restore normal breathing.
Identify and limit triggers in your home
Asthma can be triggered by mold, pests, dust mites, pet hair and dander, tobacco smoke and cleaning chemicals, all of which are present in homes and are responsible for 40 percent of all asthma attacks. These triggers release allergens into the air and cause an attack when breathed into asthmatic lungs.
The first step towards managing asthma is to reduce the likelihood of triggering an attack. Keep damp areas like bathrooms and basements clean, dry and well-ventilated to prevent mold growth. Do not smoke in your home. Vacuum often with a HEPA vacuum to reduce the buildup of dust mites, pet hair and dander. Ensure your home meets all eight elements of a green and healthy home to help prevent asthma attacks at home and keep your children healthy and ready to learn.
In December 2014, GHHI published a study of its work in the Environmental Justice that demonstrated the effectiveness of its evidenced-based interventions in improving childhood asthma symptoms. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded the GHHI Baltimore program the National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management. By addressing asthma triggers in the homes of children with chronic asthma, we have been able to reduce asthma related hospitalizations by more than 65% and emergency department visits by 28%. This study showed a 62% increase in participants reporting asthma-related perfect attendance for their child (i.e. zero school absences due to asthma episodes) as well as an 88% increase in parents never having to miss a day of work to care for a sick child with asthma.
Create an asthma action plan
Reducing exposure to asthma triggers will lessen the chance for an asthma attack, but there is always the potential of unexpectedly encountering a trigger outside the home. Pollen, strong fumes or odors and cold or dry weather can all trigger an attack. Having a plan for when your child encounters these triggers is vital. Establish an Asthma Action Plan with your child’s doctor before your child goes back to school. This document outlines your child’s triggers, the severity of their asthma, what medication to take and how often. It should be shared with your child’s school administration and nurse in case of an attack during school hours.
Many of these triggers may be encountered at school. If you have concerns about potential triggers in your child’s school or classroom, use the American Lung Association toolkit as a guide when reviewing school policies and talking to administrators. Parents can advocate for school policies that create healthy environments for learning: proper storage of food, prompt cleanup of spills and trash and the establishment of a smoke-free campus.
We invite you to help us spread awareness about the connection between asthma and school attendance before, during, and after Attendance Awareness Month. Sporadic and consecutive absenteeism are issues that must be addressed year round. Taking steps now to reduce absence due to asthma attacks will ensure your child’s success in school and your success in the workplace.