Approximately one in every 15 students today has asthma, which is up significantly from 20 years ago. However, with good treatment and recognition of their triggers, students with asthma are still able to be physically active at school.
Asthma is a condition and disease where the bronchioles and alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs become constricted not allowing air to be released. The asthmatic student can get air in but can’t exhale adequately. The lungs become overly inflated with air that no longer has oxygen to be delivered to the body.
Although asthma can restrict physical activities it doesn’t have to contradict physical activity. Asthma and physical activity go hand in hand with proper planning and management. Physical fitness is an important goal for all students. Physical fitness increases the chances that the student will maintain fitness as they grow into adulthood and decrease their chance of becoming overweight adults, which has a negative impact on an individual’s response to asthma.
A partnership between students, teachers, parents, coaches, doctors and physical education teachers to manage and control asthma will increase the student’s chance of remaining active. Part of that partnership is the asthma management plan. That plan recognizes the triggers or factors that make a student’s asthma worse or causes an episode. Asthmatics should avoid and control those triggers.
Some common triggers that are factors in an asthma episode include exercise, mold, allergies, upper respiratory infections, irritants, cigarette smoke, cleaning solutions, perfumes and paints. Some of these triggers can be avoided while others may only be limited. In either case they should be included in the management plan for any child with asthma.
Another part of the management plan includes access to medications that used to treat asthma attacks. Children with asthma require access to rescue medications during their attacks. Using a management plan will increase the chances that the student will remain active during the school year and develop good fitness characteristics that will take them through life.
Physical activity at school should be modified to match the student’s current lung status. Their status can be evaluated using a peak flow meter. The goal is to keep the students included in the activities even if they aren’t able to perform the physical activities. Students can be the time keeper, score keeper or equipment manager until their health improves.
Students with asthma are more successful remaining physically active when a management plan is used. The management plan should include the students medical history, their individual symptoms, how to contact the parents and health care providers, normal peak flow numbers, triggers, medications and signed by the parent/guardian and student. The plan should have the student involvement during the development, because with the student’s participation they will be more likely to follow the plan.
The final piece of the management plan should be complete access to rescue medications. Students should be able to access their medications, administer them and determine when they need them. Teachers and coaches should not only know the student’s triggers but also the symptoms that require immediate action such as coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, chest tightness or low peak flow readings.
When the symptoms of asthma appear during or following physical activity at school the student should stop the activity, use their inhaler and be taken for emergency help if they don’t improve. Remaining physically active at school is an important piece to improved physical fitness for students to continue their fitness growth.