What is asthma
In the UK one in ten people suffer from asthma, which is a lung condition especially common in children and young people. Symptoms of asthma include shortness of breath, coughing, tightness in the chest, and a wheezing or whistling noise when exhaling. Not all of these symptoms are be experienced by asthma sufferers, and it’s possible that some children will only experience symptoms occasionally. Small children may verbalise their symptoms by commenting that it feels like they have someone sitting on their chest, or that their stomach hurts.
It can be difficult for staff working with early years and primary school-aged children to count on younger children to tell them when their symptoms are worsening, or what medicines they have to take and when. It is essential therefore that staff working with these children are able to identify when a pupil’s symptoms of asthma are getting worse, and know how to help the child. This knowledge should be supported by regular training for members of staff, asthma school cards which are supplied by parents, and written asthma plans. An individual health care plan should also be provided for those children suffering from significant asthma symptoms.
Asthma is commonly treated by medicine delivered through an inhaler, and there are two key types of medicines which are used to treat the condition. Relievers (blue inhalers) are taken immediately to quickly relieve symptoms of asthma, and are often the only inhalers needed by children during the school day. They are occasionally taken before exercise and also during asthma attacks. Preventers (red, orange and brown inhalers, and sometimes in tablet form), as the name suggests, aim to prevent asthma symptoms from occurring, and are normally taken outside of school hours.
It is essential that a child with asthma can access their reliever inhalers immediately when they are needed. Spacer devices are often used with inhalers to ensure that the child gets the most from the medicine, and it may be that the child needs some help to use this. It is advisable to support and encourage a child to use and take charge of their inhaler, and many children are able to.
If a child is considered to be too young or immature to be responsible for their inhaler, school staff should ensure that it is clearly labelled with the child’s name, and is safely stored in a readily accessible location. It is also important that an inhaler is available to a child during educational visits, sports activities and during physical education lessons.