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Asthma and children

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How to earn honors helping children with respiratory conditions ease into the new school year


Bring on the pencils, bring on the books... September’s yearly rite of passage is upon us. The return to school is full of promise – and maybe some dread – in the minds and hearts of children across the land. Dr. Lee-Chong Teofilo, Chief Medical Liaison at Philips, takes a timely opportunity to reflect on how children with everyday conditions such as asthma face unique challenges – and what we as parents and care providers can do to help.

September image

September in the United States can an exciting and apprehensive time for adolescents. The summer is winding down, a new school year begins; a new teacher, a new set of classmates. And for many, youth sports such as soccer and flag football are ramping up in very short order. There can be a natural sense of fear – of change, of the “new” and unknown – but also a sense of possibility for what the immediate future may hold.

In midst of what can be a stressful time, children who deal with everyday chronic conditions such as asthma may experience a special kind of burden.  For parents, clinicians, and others who care for our young people, the question becomes: how can we support our children holistically? How can we not only provide the best therapeutic treatment …but also empower our children to live healthy, happy and active lives in body and in mind?


In my clinical experience, I have seen first-hand the psychological impact on children of common and often considered innocuous conditions such as asthma. Often such conditions are quite manageable and even avoidable with medication and preventative measures. And yet they continue to negatively impact the well-being of many of our children.

Soccer image

Some perhaps obvious truisms: children do not like to feel sick. Nor do they like to appear sick. They are socially aware. They do not want to be held back, or limited in terms of doing things that they love and see their peers doing. In general, they want (we hope) to perform well in sports and school, and to be loved and be part of a community. Yet they have an evolving and potentially tenuous sense of self-worth. They can be sensitive to appearances, and can be hyper self-conscious of anything that may be perceived as out of the “norm” – such as simple inhalation therapy conducted in front of others.

We as adults must be sensitive to the impact that conditions such as asthma can have on our children’s mental well-being and development. With that in mind, health professionals have an opportunity to make an even greater difference in the care and guidance we give parents and their children with asthma.

Below are some basic practices to help mitigate the impact chronic respiratory conditions may have on the everyday lives of children, in school and beyond.

Circle number 1

Knowledge is fundamental. 

Encourage parents of children with asthma to proactively inform the teacher and the school nurse. Although there are medications that can control asthma, exacerbations and attacks may occur that require acute or urgent intervention. Care providers outside of the home should be in the know, so they can be prepared to help as needed.

Circle number 2

Come (and go) with the right tools.

Having the right therapy on-hand at all times is important. Inhalers should be kept clean and dry, free of dust and dirt. Most of all, they should be accessible. A practical suggestion for parents: simply send the child’s inhalator with them to school or play in a clear sandwich baggy.

Circle number 3

Have a pep talk, and a plan.

We as adults intellectually understand that use of a therapy is simply a necessity and there is no shame. Likewise children should not be conscious about their inhaler, because treatment is perfectly normal.


If being self-conscious is clearly an issue, encourage the parent to work with the school nurse, psychologist and/or teachers to make a plan. Identify areas of the school that are private or semi-private – and designate them as to-go to location to administer the child’s inhalation therapy. Teacher and school administrator awareness of the “privacy plan” will support a smoother experience when an exacerbation does occur – where the school staff supports the child’s swift move to a private location, as opposed to questioning it or even reprimanding the child.

Circle number 4

Physical education.

Encourage parents and their children to be aware of and avoid triggers that could precipitate an asthma attack. Smoking should be avoided at all costs. Be aware of strong scents and odors which may cause issues. And if the pollen count is particularly high on a given day, encourage indoor activities when absolutely necessary. Research has indicated that obesity and asthma have a correlation, so encourage healthy exercise, activities such as playground play and organized sport. Do not outright avoid them due to asthma, work with your doctor and professionals to embrace them in a healthy and safe way.

Circle number 5

Ignorance is not bliss.

In the end, ignoring asthma altogether is not the correct answer. Asthma, if not managed and treated properly, can have serious health consequences. It takes a village – physicians/clinicians, school nurses and parents should work together to manage the child’s asthma in a productive and consistent manner.


Well managed asthma should not limit the fun and joy of childhood, nor should it worsen the stressful parts. As adults, it is our role to help understand our child’s asthma and take steps to help control and manage it – so the child can focus less on being sick and more on the new and exciting new experiences around the corner.

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