Asthma can deliver some hard knocks. “It’s like someone stepping on your chest,” said Jud Roberts, now a New Albany High School senior, who has lived with asthma since he was little.
But asthma hasn’t kept Roberts out of school or sports. He’s an offensive guard on the football team and is preparing to head to college with the ambition of becoming a pediatrician.
Knowledge of asthma management is the best tool for keeping kids like Roberts in the game and in school.
“We don’t want kids to be held back from anything they can do,” said New Albany school health coordinator Tammie Reader.
With asthma, the airways inside the lungs stay inflamed and extra sensitive. Cold weather, chemicals, dust, smoke, pet dander and other allergens can trigger an attack where the airways become even narrower making it difficult to breathe.
“Asthma is chronic, but it is controllable,” said Kathy Haynes, respiratory therapy manager for Women and Children’s Services at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo and a member of the leadership council for the American Lung Association in Mississippi.
Controlling the chronic lung condition is a team sport, especially for children. Parents, teachers and other adults around them need to know not just the emergency measures, but prevention.
New Albany Schools brought the American Lung Association to campus for a program for staff and students with asthma at the beginning of the school year.
This Saturday, children and adults with asthma can get a dose of asthma management and fun at Asthma Super Saturday at North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital.
Asthma management is a big issue for schools. Asthma is the number one cause of school absences, said Jennifer Cofer, American Lung Association deputy executive director for Mississippi. And it affects a lot of kids.
“Out of a class of 30, statistics show about three kids will have asthma,” Haynes said.
And even if kids make it to school, poorly controlled asthma can still be an academic issue.
“If you can’t breathe and you’re up all night,” Cofer said, “you can’t learn, you can’t concentrate.”
Because people with asthma often juggle multiple medicines to control symptoms or rescue them from an attack, there’s a lot to learn. People who are newly diagnosed with asthma might have an inhaled steroid and a rescue inhaler.
“It’s easy to get confused,” Haynes said.
It is essential that people with asthma understand their medications and take them properly. Unlike swallowing a pill, asthma inhalers require a special skill set to make sure the medicine is properly absorbed, Haynes said.
It also can be a dangerous misconception that asthma goes away and medicines are no longer necessary.
“Once you’re better, it’s easy to forget,” Haynes said.
Many kids get a break from asthma as they grow and their lung capacity increases, but then have an attack years later.
“You never now when it’s going to rear its ugly head,” Haynes said.
Communication between parents, students and school staff is key.
“They need to know if a child is hospitalized and what is the plan of care after they are home,” said Jill Robbins, New Albany High School nurse.
Even though older students are allowed to carry inhalers, it’s important they let teachers and the nurse know if they use it, Reader said.
“It’s important that teachers and nurse know there’s a problem,” Reader said. “You don’t want to wait until there’s an emergency.”
This year, schools are requiring asthma action plans for students with the condition. It goes beyond emergency measures and covers maintenance and early warning signs of problems.
“Asthma action plan makes all the difference in the world,” Cofer said.
The doctor fills out the forms with patients and parents, including medicines and directions for an emergency.
“Asthma is very individualized,” Cofer said. “It depends on the triggers.”
Programs for schools
The American Lung Association in Mississippi receives federal grant money through the Mississippi State Department of Health to provide asthma intervention programs in schools and the community.
“The best thing to create an asthma-friendly school environment is to talk to teachers and coaches,” Cofer said.
It’s important for them to understand the signs, symptoms and prevention, Cofer said. Keeping classrooms clear of dust, certain cleaning supplies and aerosols can make a huge difference in keeping kids well controlled.
Recognizing the early warning signs of an attack and responding help keep kids in school.
At New Albany Schools, Cofer added a student education session for students with asthma by request of superintendent Chuck Garrett.
“He’s the first superintendent that has asked for that,” Cofer said.
At the student session, Cofer focused on the importance of taking the medicine properly and taking it even when they are feeling well.
“Our daily meds are so important,” Cofer said, and it’s easy to get complacent.
Because of the severity of her asthma, New Albany sophomore Chawntee’a Campbell was up to speed on the measures Cofer brought up in the student session she did.
“It helped a lot of other people,” Campbell said.
New Albany football coach Ron Price takes asthma seriously, and he and his coaches welcomed the lung association program, he said. Several players have asthma ranging from mild to severe. Price, the position coaches and athletic trainers all take responsibility for different players’ inhalers, based on who is likely to be closest to the student.
“We don’t want asthma or things we can control to ever prevent a kid from playing sports,” Price said.
Earlier this year, one of Price’s assistant coaches was able to recognize the early warning signs of an attack in a player at the end of a weight session and get his inhaler to him, Price said.
“If you don’t take the steps needed, it can become a problem,” Price said.
Senior guard Roberts, who has long had his asthma under good control, still had to watch out for symptoms at a game earlier this year.
“When the weather turned cold, it kicked in,” Roberts said. “I just have to sit down and catch my breath.”
But he also knows the athletic trainer has his rescue inhaler if he needs it.
Asthma Super Saturday returns to Tupelo on Saturday at North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Different programs will be geared to different age groups, and there will be entertainment to keep small children engaged while their parents learn.
The original Asthma Super Saturday events evolved into Camp Breathe EZZZZE, which is now offered each summer for kids.
“The camp is limited to ages 6 to 12,” respiratory therapist Vanita Southward said.
Its return came from a request for an asthma support group from an NMMC-Pontotoc employee, who has a child with asthma.
“This is open to all ages,” Haynes said.
The respiratory therapists are hoping to make Asthma Super Saturday a quarterly event, Haynes said. Participants will help craft the future programs.
Asthma Super Saturday
– Asthma Super Saturday will be 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at NMMC Women’s Hospital in Tupelo. Asthma education and entertainment for children and adults. Participants will be divided into three age groups. Free; light refreshments. Call (662) 377-4706 or (800) 843-3375.
The program is funded in part by a grant from the American Lung Association.
Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal