Succeeding in School with Asthma: A Parent's Guide

As your child gets ready for a new school year, make sure their asthma is well-controlled. Asthma can cause kids to miss school for many reasons – flare-ups, doctor visits, hospital stays, contact with asthma triggers, and losing sleep from asthma attacks at night. Managing your child's asthma is a team effort. Plan ahead and work with your child, your child's doctor, and the school. You can help control your child's asthma and make way for a healthier start to the new school year!

What is asthma?

Asthma is a serious, chronic lung disease that causes a person's airways to tighten and narrow. It causes repeated episodes of shortness of breath, nighttime or morning coughing, chest tightness, and wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe).

Not every child will have all of these symptoms. Asthma symptoms can vary from student to student, from season to season, or even hour by hour. Your child's health care provider can diagnose asthma by looking at medical and family histories, and doing a physical exam and other tests.

An asthma attack or flare-up can happen when your child is exposed to certain triggers. Triggers can be different for each person. It is important to be aware of your child's asthma triggers and learn how to avoid them.

Examples of Common Triggers:

  • Tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke)
  • Dust mites (tiny animals that live in dust)
  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Pests (mice, rats, cockroaches) and their droppings
  • Pets (Animal dander or small particles from fur, hair, feathers or skin)
  • Mold
  • Pollen, outdoor air quality, hot or cold temperatures
  • Cleaning, paint and smelly products
  • Colds and flu

During an asthma attack a trigger causes changes to take place in the lungs that make the airways smaller, causing more mucous, swelling and muscle tightening making it harder to breathe. Asthma attacks can range from mild to very severe.

There are many reasons why asthma symptoms can worsen when school starts:

  • There are more cold and flu virusesbeing spread between students as a result of being in close quarters and students sharing things like books and pencils. The flu virus can trigger an asthma attack or lead to other acute respiratory diseases. Everyone who is 6 months and older, especially those with asthma or other chronic health conditions, should get a flu vaccine. People with asthma are at high risk of severe disease and complications from the flu.
  • Environmental allergens, like ragweed, pollen, mold and dust mites are at increased levels.
  • Classroom allergens, like chalk dust, pet dander, cleaning supplies, etc. can trigger asthma attacks.
  • Stress is another asthma trigger common at the start of a new school year.
  • Seasonal changes in temperature can also set off asthma symptoms.

You can help prevent asthma attacks by being prepared and using a team approach to help your child keep good control of their asthma.

Work with your child's doctor:

  • Before your child returns to school, schedule an asthma check-up with his or her health care provider to develop anAsthma Action Plan, which is a detailed plan that can help to make sure your child's asthma is well-managed at school. The plan lists:
    • Your child's medication(s) and how much and how often they need to take them
    • Triggers that may make your child's asthma worse
    • Actions to take in case of an asthma emergency
    • Emergency contact information (e.g. Doctor, parent/guardian)
  • Schedule an appointment for your child with asthma and for all family members six months and older to receive the flu vaccine this fall. People with asthma are at high risk of severe disease and complications from the flu. Visit for more information.

If you don't have health insurance, visit the NY State of Health at to see if you qualify for affordable health coverage.

Visit to find a local doctor.

Work with your child's school:

  • Ask your school nurse or other school staff to explain and provide all of the required forms that need to be signed by you and your child's health care provider to be able to take their asthma medication at school. By law, schools are required to make sure that students can use their medications when needed as prescribed by their doctor. Schools must also make sure health professionals are there to give the student their medications if the student cannot do it on their own.
  • Schedule a meeting at the beginning of the school year with the school nurse, teacher and/or principal to review the Asthma Action Plan and other aspects of your child's asthma needs at school.
    • Talk about your child's typical symptoms and what your child tends to do or say when they have symptoms (ex: some children cry, some ask for help, some say they have a stomach ache, some are silent).
    • Ask that information about managing your child's asthma be shared with other school staff as needed (ex: gym teacher, bus drivers, custodians, and other teachers) so that they are prepared in the event your child has an asthma attack under their care, including how to respond in case of a medical emergency.
    • Talk to your doctor about your child's full participation in gym class and extracurricular activities. Review any recommendations with the school.

Visit the American Lung Association for more information on steps parents can take to work with your school to best manage your child's asthma.

Talk to your child:

As a team with your school, you and your child have the power to take control of their asthma.

Be sure to use the right language for your child's age to explain what asthma is, how asthma affects the lungs, their triggers, symptoms, and medicine(s).

  • For Young Children:
    • Visit Lungtropolis with your child to find action-packed games designed to help kids learn to control their asthma. You can also find helpful tips on teaching your kids about their asthma.
  • For Teens:

Quick tips for dealing with asthma symptoms:

Teach your child to do these 4 easy steps as soon as they start experiencing asthma symptoms:

  • Ask for help
  • Take or ask for their quick-relief medicine to use as directed
  • Sit down
  • Stay calm

To learn more about asthma, please visit: