According to the University of Missouri’s Center for Family Policy and Research, asthma is the leading chronic health condition among American children, and is top five among the nation’s most deadly health conditions. In Missouri alone, more than 150,000 children have asthma. Asthma is much more than a breathing problem – the time a child can be substituted with a hospital visit at any moment. It is important for parents, teachers, and the children themselves to understand the condition and learn the best ways to cope with it. Due to the high volume of school children affected, both the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have programs dedicated to managing school environments for the sake of asthmatic children.

Asthma is defined by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) as “a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways.” The disease affects people of all ages, but most individuals are diagnosed in childhood. Common symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, chest tightening, and shortness of breath. Asthma attacks, when the lining of the lung’s airways become so swollen or inflamed that the person suffering can’t breathe, are often triggered by mold, moisture, dust, pests, pet dander, air pollution (including cigarettes), and some chemicals in cleaning products.

In addition to being a deadly health condition, the CDC specifies asthma as the leading cause of school absenteeism and responsible for more than 10 million missed days of school a year. More schools are taking the initiative to equip their nurses’ offices with emergency asthma medications and educating children and caregivers about the condition. In 2014, the Missouri Asthma Prevention and Control Program (MAPCP) launched Teaming Up for Asthma Control (TUAC) to train school nurses to educate asthmatic students, measure lung capacity, and assess inhalation technique (how patients use their inhaler). As a result, students saw increased lung capacity and fewer asthma-related incidents. Their exposure to tobacco smoke was also decreased.

The CDC advocates for improved indoor air quality and promotes 100 percent tobacco-free schools. Equally as important, all 50 states have passed laws allowing students to self-carry their asthma medications.

Poverty, limited access to medication, miseducation about the disease, and miscommunication among children, parents, and health professionals serve as detriments to the preservation of health among asthmatic youth. With the proper tools and knowledge, children who suffer from asthma can have the same quality of life and education as children without the condition.