Fit to Breathe “Helping Students”

Every teacher and coach has students who’ve been diagnosed with asthma in their classroom or gymnasium, but many don’t know that asthma is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition.

Asthma is chronic and never goes away, but it can be well managed. Symptoms might appear to come and go for no reason. Some students with asthma only notice symptoms when they’re physically active, while others experience symptoms due to a variety of allergens, irritants and co-existing conditions such as sinus disease, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and viral infections – in addition to exercise!

Asthma symptoms are not always obvious to an onlooker. By the time you can hear a student wheeze, he or she has already lost approximately 20 percent of their lung function.

Students with asthma may resist activities they think will make it hard for them to breathe or those they figure will cause failure or embarrassment in front of classmates – such as exercise.  They often adopt sedentary lifestyles and hobbies. Some become overweight – a dangerous condition for people with asthma of all ages.

A Plan for Success

Why do some students with asthma resist exercise while others excel at it, even becoming career athletes and Olympic medalists?  

Each student with asthma should have an Asthma Action Plan on file at school. The Asthma Action Plan provides a common ground for understanding the student’s medical concerns and the steps all parties can take to ensure academic, social and physical development.

Tips for Helping Students Succeed

  • Set goals. Working with the student, family and health care provider, set fitness goals at increments the student can achieve. Be supportive and encouraging. A diagnosis of asthma does not mean a lifetime sitting on the sidelines!

  • Never ask a student to engage in activities he or she knows will place their life at risk. Some students push too hard to succeed; others are terrified to try. Encourage moderation and not extremes. 

  • Make sure the student uses his or her pre-exercise bronchodilator (if prescribed) and carries this inhaler at all times. Ask the medical care provider to specify circumstances in which the student should and should not engage in strenuous activities.

  • Offer alternative low-impact or light aerobic exercise alternatives on days when the student cannot participate in class activities. Students whose asthma regularly interferes with physical activity should be seen by a physician and not simply relegated to the sidelines as a lost cause. Students can’t make the grade if they can’t breathe well while active. The key here is consultation with an allergist or pulmonologist to find out why the student continues to have problems breathing and to adjust the Asthma Action Plan accordingly – at home, school and play.

  • Promote an atmosphere of support; do not allow students to bully or make fun of others.
  • One to grow on. As students grow, their immune system changes and so will their Asthma Action Plan. The goal is to help these students succeed and to develop lifelong healthy habits.

  • Food is fuel for performance; ask students what they ate for breakfast and lunch. Encourage them to consume the foods most likely to help them succeed at school and in life. Even students with severe food allergies can eat healthy!

Physically fit students breathe better and have a healthier self-esteem than children who sit on the sidelines every day.

Coaches, teachers and school nurses can foster a climate of empathy and respect among students of all physical abilities and inspire students with asthma to step strategically outside of their comfort zone to achieve better breathing and healthier habits that last a lifetime.