Childhood Asthma: Incidence, Causes, and Classroom Intervention

Why asthma matters

Asthma is one of the most common physical impairments in children. It affects about 4 million kids under 18 each year, and it is responsible for 14 million missed school days annually.

This is of particular concern for teachers of African American students because the incidence of asthma in the African American community is considerably higher than other populations, with African Americans 38% more likely to have asthma than whites and 95% more likely than Latinos. In addition, they are three times as likely to die from their asthma as their white counterparts.

What is asthma?

Asthma is an inflammation of the bronchial airways leading from the trachea to the lungs that causes the airways to well, produce excess mucus, and contract involuntarily. This is what causes the tightness of chest and wheezing we equate with having an asthma attack.

Asthma is an allergic reaction most frequently caused by inhaling allergens such as dust or pollen. Weather, exercise, emotional stress, and infections are also know to precipitate attacks. The majority of children with asthma also suffer from other environmental allergies. Adults with asthma are more likely to have children with asthma than adults without the condition.

What do I need to know to help my students?

  • It sounds simple, but make sure that your classroom is kept clean. Allergens, such as dust, molds, and chalk dust, can cause attacks.
  • Field trips and excursions outside may also cause attacks. Before embarking on field trips, find out who among your students is asthmatic and arrange with the child's parents and the school nurse to bring their inhaler or other medication with you in case of an attack.
  • Know the signs of an asthma attack. Before a full-blown attack, children often become irritable, their breathing shallow, and their speech clipped. Recognizing these symptoms is particularly important when working with young students who are less able to articulate when they are feeling unwell.

-contributed by J. Tabak

Source Texts:
American Lung Association Website: Childhood Asthma Overview & Asthma and African Americans

Hamm, E.M. (2004). Managing asthma in the classroom. Retrieved 7/31/07 from