A parent’s to-do list for the beginning of a new school year is long. If your child has asthma or allergies, it may be even longer. But you can make school year planning easier by preparing in the summer. These school planning tips can help prevent asthma episodes and allergic reactions. And they can help the school know what to do if your child does have symptoms or an emergency.
We recommend you follow all of these steps over the summer, well before the first day of school.
Communicate with your child’s school about their care plan.
You child will need a care plan that lists their common symptoms, medicines, and steps to take if they have symptoms. It may also include steps school staff should take to prevent asthma episodes or attacks or allergic reactions. The three most common types of school care plans are:
- Emergency care plan (ECP) – This is a medical plan from your child’s doctor for the school to follow.
- Individualized health care plan (IHCP) – This is a type of nursing care plan. For a student with asthma or food allergies, this would include an emergency care plan.
- 504 plan – This is a legal contract between a school and a student.
To start the process, contact your child’s school to discuss what type of care plan your child needs. Find out the steps you need to follow to put these in place.
While you’re talking with the school, get copies of school medical forms. They may include medicine authorization, an emergency action plan, and a dietary meal accommodation form if your child has food allergies.
Visit your child’s doctor during the summer.
At this appointment, get refills for your child’s medicines. Ask the doctor to fill out and sign the forms mentioned above. And don’t forget to ask for an updated Asthma Action Plan or an Anaphylaxis Action Plan for your child. These plans should be reviewed and updated at the start of each school year.
Your doctor may need a couple of weeks to fill out these forms, so make the appointment far enough in advance so you can have the signed forms before school starts.
Because nebulizers may spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, many schools are not using them. Ask your child’s doctor for an extra inhaler that can be kept at school. This way, if your child forgets to bring their inhaler or it’s empty, one will still be available.
Meet with school staff and turn in signed forms.
Make appointments to talk to the school nurse or representative, your child’s teacher, and the food services director (if your child has food allergies) before the first day of classes. If your child has asthma and will participate in sports, talk to the sports director or coach. This is so your child’s care plan will be in place beginning on the first day.
At this meeting, turn in the signed forms and discuss your child’s care plan. Ask questions such as:
- Where will your child’s medicines be kept? Will it be easily accessible?
- Are staff trained on how to manage asthma and allergies?
- How does the school staff handle asthma episodes or attacks and allergic reactions?
- How is bullying handled?
If your child has food allergies, arrange to meet with the school’s food services director to find out how food is handled in the school. Ask if they will be able to provide safe food substitutions for your child.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have changed where and how food is served. For instance, meals may now be eaten in classrooms instead of the cafeteria. Find out their process for managing food allergies if this is the case.
Teach your child age-appropriate skills to help them self-manage their asthma or allergies.
As your child grows, they can learn age-appropriate ways to manage their asthma and allergies. Then when they get older, self-management will come more easily. Some self-management skills may include:
- Recognizing asthma symptoms or an allergic reaction
- Telling an adult when they are having symptoms
- Washing their hands properly
- Reading food labels if they have food allergies
- Reporting bullying or harassment
- Carrying and using their own medicines
Talk with your child’s doctor and ask if your child is old enough to self-carry and take their medicines on their own. If your child will carry their own asthma medicines or epinephrine, work with the doctor and the school to make sure proper paperwork is in place. All 50 states have laws allowing children to self-carry their own medicine.
Take steps to prevent future asthma and allergy symptoms now.
If your child has asthma, take steps now to prevent episodes or attacks later. It’s much easier to prevent asthma and allergy symptoms before they happen than it is to get them under control.
- Prepare for the September Asthma Epidemic. September tends to be when the most asthma attacks and hospitalizations occur. The third week of September is considered to be Asthma Peak Week. This happens because of a combination of a peak of fall pollen, the spread of viruses and bacteria as children return to school, and exposure to asthma and allergy triggers at school.
- Make sure your child’s asthma is under control before school starts. If your child’s asthma is not well-controlled, talk with their doctor as soon as possible to adjust their treatment plan.
- If your child has allergic asthma, talk with your child’s doctor about starting or adjusting their allergy treatment now.
- Get the flu, pneumococcal, and COVID-19 vaccines for your child. These three illnesses can be very serious. If your child is 12 or older, get the COVID-19 shot now so they will be fully vaccinated by the time school starts. Get the flu shot as soon as it’s available, usually in September. Your child will only need one pneumococcal shot, with a possible booster later. Check with their doctor to find out if they already had it as part of their regular childhood vaccines.
- If you are concerned about asthma and allergy triggers in the classroom, talk with the school about how to reduce them.
- Ask your school about the steps they are taking to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Share our COVID-19 and Asthma Toolkit for Schools with your child’s school. Consider having your child to continue to wear a mask even if they are vaccinated against COVID-19. They can have added benefits in addition to helping prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They can reduce your child’s exposure to triggers, such as pollen, scents, allergens, and other respiratory infections, like the flu.
Visit AAFA’s school planning zone for more helpful tips, articles, handouts, and resources.
What are some of your favorite back-to-school planning tips? Join our online community to talk to other parents about how you manage asthma and allergies at school.