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Dealing With Feelings

School and Asthma

Having asthma can be tough sometimes. You might get angry that you have to think about your breathing and remember your quick-relief medicine wherever you go.

But lots of teens have asthma. By keeping it under control, there’s less risk you’ll have a bad flare-up and need to rush off to the school nurse, your doctor’s office, or the hospital.

Take Charge

The best way to control asthma is to take the medicine your doctor prescribed. Follow your doctor’s instructions on when and how to take it.

Your doctor will work with you to create an asthma action plan that takes into account your school schedule and activities. This written plan may include your medicines and when and how to take them, things to watch out for that can trigger an asthma flare-up, early signs of a flare-up, what to do if you have a flare-up, and when it’s an emergency.

The plan might also give you tips about asthma and exercise. If you use a peak flow meter, the plan will say when to use it.

Your doctor will talk to you about how to make the action plan work best for you, including what you can do to make caring for your asthma at school less of a hassle. For example, you may be able to take long-term control medicines at home so you don’t have to remember them at school. You’ll want to have your quick-relief medicine with you at school, of course.

Tips for School

You can also take these steps to help get a handle on your asthma at school:

Talk to your teachers, coaches, and friends. The more people who know about your asthma, the more help you’ll have. You don’t have to make a big deal about it, but letting people know means they can help you out.

For example, your homeroom teacher will understand your request to close the windows when the pollen count is high. Your gym teacher will know that you can’t run outside in really cold weather. And by telling your friends, you may find you’re not as alone as you thought — some of your classmates probably have asthma, too. By talking about it, you might help them too.

Make sure your school has a copy of your action plan. The school office and health office should both have copies of your plan. So should the athletic department if you play any sports. In some cases, you may want to discuss the plan with coaches or the school nurse.

Figure out the best way to follow your plan. Some schools let teens carry their medicines with them. Others want all medicines kept at the health office. The school nurse or your teacher may be able to suggest ways of fitting treatment into the school day.

Do the best you can to manage triggers. You don’t control your school environment, so it can be tougher to manage triggers there. But there are a few things you can do:

  • If you have exercise-induced asthma, make sure you have access to your rescue medications before and during gym class.
  • If chalk dust, smoke, pollen, or mold are a problem, let a teacher or the school nurse know. Exposure to these often can be reduced or eliminated.
  • If you get flare-ups because of stress, do your best to prepare for things like tests. Learning relaxation techniques, like breathing exercises, can help.

Being able to relax and take control in stressful situations can help you avoid flare-ups. Knowing how to prevent and control asthma flare-ups can take away a lot of the fear and frustration you might feel when they happen.

Assume you can play sports. Lots of elite athletes have asthma, from pro football players to Olympic gold medal winners. There’s no reason you should have to skip sports, gym classes, and other physical activities. But you’ll definitely want to talk with your doctor about playing sports, so you’ll know how to manage things.

Here are some tips:

  • Make sure your gym teacher and coaches understand your asthma. They can help you avoid triggers, like letting you run indoors when the pollen or mold count is high.
  • If you need to rest or stop and take your quick-relief medicine, do it. Your teammates would rather have you healthy and able to play your best.
  • Don’t feel bad if you have to sit out a game or practice. If you’re having trouble (even if it’s just a cold), don’t work out until you feel better. This isn’t being wimpy — it’s managing your asthma.

Focus on Flare-Ups

Following your action plan should mean you don’t have flare-ups very often. But chances are, you won’t be able to prevent every single flare-up. That means you always need to be prepared for one, especially at school.

Learn how you feel when a flare-up is coming on. Do you have a tight chest? Do you feel tired? Do you have a cough, even though you don’t have a cold? Are you wheezing?

If you feel a flare-up coming on, get the help you need. Always be able to get to your inhaler — either in your backpack or the health office. Use it whenever you need to. Let people around you know what’s happening. Don’t ignore the attack or hope it will go away on its own. Take charge and you’ll be breathing easier soon.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014