Survey warns of dangerous misinformation

By Staff Report    
Thursday, 13 September 2007
Students with asthma returning to classrooms across the U.S. may face dangerous situations when needing access to lifesaving inhalers, according to an American Lung Association survey released recently.

The online survey of parents of children with asthma examined students’ access to “quick relief” medications, the use of Asthma Action Plans, and parents’ awareness of state laws allowing students to carry and use inhalers.

Results revealed that 58.7 percent of respondents were unsure if their state has a law allowing students to carry and self-administer fast-acting “quick relief” inhalers. In fact, 46 states and the District of Columbia require that the self-administration of asthma medication be allowed in public and private schools. An overwhelming 74.4 percent of parents whose children do have inhalers at school responded that their child’s school does not allow students to keep rescue inhalers with them (in their desks, pockets, etc.). Forty percent have never heard of an Asthma Action Plan, the recommended asthma management and communication tool for parents, physicians and schools.

“The American Lung Association’s survey results send a dramatic red flag to parents of students with asthma and to school officials,” said Michelle R. Bernth, SVP of Marketing for the American Lung Association of the Central States. “The breakdown in critical communication links among parents, schools, and teachers means that some children are facing situations at school that can lead to medical emergencies. They must have immediate access to lifesaving medications.”

Access to “quick-relief” or “rescue” medications is critical for people with asthma, as these medications immediately open the airways during an asthma attack. The longer it takes to administer quick-relief medications, the more severe the asthma attack may become. More than 6.5 million American children under age 18 have asthma.

Nearly 22% of respondents indicated that their children may not have immediate access to their lifesaving inhalers during an attack. Those respondents indicated that if their children have trouble with asthma symptoms during the school day, the school calls a parent or caregiver who brings quick-relief medicine to the child; the child does not get his/her rescue medicine until they get home from school; or the school calls an ambulance.

Every state except Connecticut, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Vermont has a statewide law or regulation in place that requires schools to allow students to carry and use asthma inhalers.

“If a state law does exist, that doesn’t mean that all children with asthma should be carrying and giving themselves medication, but the American Lung Association wants as many students as possible to carry their rescue medications,” explained Norman H. Edelman, M.D., American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer. “For each child and each situation, the school, parents, and healthcare provider together must evaluate many factors. They need to consider the student’s maturity level, understanding of their symptoms and when they need medication, and their willingness to follow the school’s policies about carrying your own medication. That relationship among the family, school officials and the child’s health care provider, who must be directing and communicating a specific asthma management plan, is critical.”

As part of its asthma and school health programs, the American Lung Association (ALA) has partnered with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) to build capacity of local community coalitions and education agencies to address the impact of asthma. Both agencies focus efforts on strengthening communication between schools and parents.

“We applaud the American Lung Association for working to raise awareness about back-to-school asthma,” said AASA Executive Director Paul Houston. “AASA is committed to ensuring that district-level decision-makers play an active role in asthma management, and we are committed to increasing the capacity of these leaders to work with parents to provide the safest learning environment for their children.”  

The National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute’s National Asthma Education and Prevention Program recommends that written action plans be created as part of an overall effort to educate patients in self-management. Schools play pivotal roles in students’ asthma management by providing an asthma-friendly school environment, communicating with parents about students’ specific health experiences while at school, and facilitating referrals to healthcare providers and other community resources when necessary.

“The survey results help the American Lung Association and our school, medical, and community partners focus our efforts to increase parents’ and school officials’ abilities to best manage students’ asthma,” said Bernth. “It is a shared responsibility. Parents must be sure that children who have prescribed rescue inhalers have them at school. Physicians must provide written plans for schools and parents. And schools must communicate clearly with parents and follow state law and local policies to ensure that students have immediate access to lifesaving medications,” she said.

Tips for parents of children with asthma, as well as resources for schools and healthcare providers, are available at, or by calling 1-800-LUNG-USA.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 13 September 2007 )