Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes inflammation and narrows the airways. It can be assumed that proper management of this lifelong illness requires effort and time on the individual level. However, most do not realize that successful and sustainable management is contingent upon teamwork.
As I approached the school, I recognized a familiar logo. It was one of Respiratory Health Association’s smoke free building signs. When I provided the staff asthma training here, we had discussed in great detail the importance of enforcing smoking bans and how tobacco smoke can affect the people around you. At that time, they did not have a clear sign indicating this, so this was both hopeful and exciting to see clearly displayed outside the main entrance. Taking small steps such as this makes a big difference in the long run.
Before I could even finish signing into the visitor log, the counselor I had been coordinating with greeted me. She wasted no time in getting down to the facts and explained that one in four students at her school had asthma. That is 16% higher than the national average.
For this particular school, I worked with all of the 6th – 8th graders that had asthma. The main purpose of our student program is to help children feel more comfortable in controlling their asthma. Enabling someone to be their own health advocate is powerful and something that helps make a more sustainable solution.
As the class proceeded, it was evident that many of the students did not realize asthma was a chronic illness. As a result, many were not familiar with the significance of a long-term controller. This is one of the two types of asthma medications and is used to provide continuing control for the swelling and snot that occurs in asthmatic airways. We spent a great deal of time discussing the various types, how to use them, and why it is extremely important to take a long-term controller everyday if their doctor prescribes them one. Addressing misconceptions such as this is essential for proper long-term management.
I kept this in mind as I transitioned into the parent program that afternoon. To complement the student discussion surrounding long-term controller importance, I made sure to address how to bring up the concept when meeting with a healthcare provider and where to access medication if cost was a barrier. Additionally, we discussed the importance of providing the school with an Asthma Action Plan so that successful communication surrounding their child’s illness would be put in place. This helpful tool goes through what type of medication the child uses, what their asthma triggers are, and what warning signs staff members can look out for. With communication comes more effective chronic disease management.
This was one of the exceptional schools where I had the opportunity to provide all three of our asthma programs: staff, student, and parent. However, we would like to make this more of a norm since having access to key information pertaining to asthma is essential to creating a safe and supportive environment for chronic disease management. If everyone involved puts forth effort into controlling the disease, it creates a more sustainable and successful outcome.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2016-17 member Kristy Stevlingson.
Kristy is an Asthma Educator at Respiratory Health Association.