Asthma and Learning Readiness
When You Can’t Breathe, Nothing Else Matters®
Asthma is the most common chronic illness among children. More than five million children have asthma. Since 1980, asthma prevalence in children has more than doubled. The most rapid increase in prevalence has occurred in children under the age of 5 with that rate increasing more than 160 percent. For reasons not yet clear, studies show a strong correlation between poverty and asthma prevalence.
What is asthma?
Symptoms of Asthma in Children
- An audible whistling or wheezing when your child exhales
- Coughing, especially if the cough is frequent and occurs in spasms
- Waking at night with coughing or wheezing
- Shortness of breath, which may or may not occur when your child exercises
- A tight feeling in your child's chest
From "What is Asthma," MayoClinic.com. (Not available in Spanish)
The “A, B, C’s” of Asthma Challenges
One reason your child may not be able to meet the challenges of school is that he/she simply can’t breathe. For asthmatic children, asthma presents learning challenges. If a child is having difficulty breathing, the focus of the child’s energies will be on breathing and not on the lessons at hand. It is estimated that nationally, approximately 10 percent of schoolchildren may have asthma. One study reported the absence rate is three times higher among children diagnosed with asthma.
“A” is for Attendance — A basic necessity of learning starts with “A” as in attendance. The American Academy of Allergy and Immunology states that, “Going to school with asthma introduces two sometimes opposing realities. The first reality is that uninterrupted daily attendance at school maximizes a child’s chances to learn and provides the student with the continuity of instruction necessary to reach his or her potential. The second reality is that asthma is a largely unpredictable disease, and it often interrupts learning by distracting [the child] or keeping children away from school.”
“B” is for Behavior — Asthma has an impact on the social and emotional, as well as, the physical health of a child. A child may feel “different” because he/she has to sit down during playtime, or avoid touching the classroom pet because it may trigger an asthma attack. Or the child may feel embarrassment over having to take his/her medication in front of peers. Anxiety is also common among children who may be experiencing difficulty breathing. Children who are being emotionally challenged are less likely to engage actively in the learning process.
A child's participation in the learning process will be impacted if they are having difficulty breathing. The medications prescribed to assist the child’s breathing also may cause behaviors that can limit a child’s participation in the learning process. Fatigue or drowsiness simply can be the result of a sleepless night caused by coughing. Asthma medications can cause side effects such as nervousness, nausea, jitteriness, hyperactivity, and inability to concentrate. Any one of these issues can pose a significant barrier to learning. There is, however, some good news.
“C” is for Control, but not Cure — At this time, there is no cure for asthma. Fortunately, new ways of controlling asthma and managing it long-term are available. It is possible to reduce asthma’s personal, social, and economic burdens. Children with asthma can live normal lives in which the disease has a minimal impact on their daily activities and learning progress. Children with asthma need proper support in their learning environment to keep their asthma under control and be fully active. Head Start, schools or child care staff, health professionals, and parents can work together to remove obstacles and to promote students’ health and education.
Copyright 2007 by Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
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