Students with asthma and allergies will pack more than just a lunchbox and bookbag when they start school this year: They'll be devising ways to keep their life-saving medications close at hand should they need them. No longer do they have to be locked up in the nurse's cabinet or the office. Laws passed in all 50 states now ensure students have the right to carry and use their asthma medications at school.
But how can parents be sure their children know what to do when symptoms arise? Most schools require permission from the student's physician, saying they are ready to take charge of their treatment. So the first step is visiting the doctor and getting a written asthma (or anaphylaxis) action plan. "Then, like learning to tie their shoes or recite their ABCs, kids will need to practice what they learn and have the supportive reinforcement of parents and teachers throughout the process," said Nancy Sander, Founder and President of Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA), the leading national nonprofit family organization for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
AANMA suggests using these questions to use as a guide to determine whether your child is ready to self-medicate:
· Does your child use an inhaler (preferably with a holding chamber) correctly at home?
· Does he know the name of his medication and when he is supposed to use it?
· Does he stay calm when having asthma symptoms?
· Does he tell you when he is having symptoms or when he has used the inhaler?
· Does he use a peak flow meter?
· Does your child carry his inhaler with him at all times?
· Does he understand that the inhaler is not a toy and should not be shared with friends?
· Is your child able to use auto-injectable epinephrine correctly without assistance?
· Does your child know what to do immediately after using the auto-injectable epinephrine? (The right answer is to tell an adult to take him to the hospital.)
· Does your child wear a medical identification tag or bracelet for use in emergency situations?
· Does he understand that auto-injectable epinephrine is not a toy and should not be shared with friends?
"Yes" answers indicate a ready and willing student. "No" answers represent an opportunity to teach your child new skills and bolster his confidence so that when the time comes (and it will come) to make a medical decision, he is more likely to make the right one.
Then there's the question of maturity. Does your child demonstrate a responsible attitude and respect for his symptoms, his medications and the need to avoid situations that place him at risk?
Students who self-manage symptoms must be willing to notify teachers, the school nurse or designated administrator when they need to use their inhalers to treat symptoms or when they are having an anaphylactic reaction. They must be willing to tell their parents about all medication use or symptoms experienced while away from home.
Not all students are ready to self-manage asthma or anaphylaxis at school. If not, school personnel will need to ensure that the student's medication travels with him from one classroom to the next to prevent treatment delays in times of need. Your child's allergy or asthma management plan should specify this.
"Whether students self-manage symptoms and medications or have assistance while at school, parents need to ensure that backup medication is available in the school clinic should the child become separated from his medication at any time," said Carol Jones, RN, AE-C, Director of AANMA's Patient Support Center. "Parents must also complete required forms and keep them updated during the school year if contact information or emergency treatment plans change."
: Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics