The Green Squad from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Healthy Schools Network

 Fact Sheet: Asthma in Schools 

Remember that some areas of your school may be off-limits without permission from your teacher or principal, and some projects should be done with at least one partner. Check with your teacher before beginning any of the activities or projects listed here.

Why It Matters
In the United States, about 4.8 million children under the age of 18 are estimated to have asthma, a disease of the lungs. That is one in every 15 kids!

Asthma is a lung disease that causes the airways to tighten, making it hard to breathe. It's become more common over the last several years, and health officials now say the United States is experiencing an asthma epidemic. People of all ages get asthma, but kids get it most often. Doctors still don't understand what causes asthma, although they do know that people inherit a tendency to get it, and environmental factors trigger it.

When you have asthma, your airways are too sensitive to certain triggers. They respond to these triggers by swelling and filling with mucus. This makes them narrower, so it's hard for air to reach your lungs. The muscles in your airways also contract, making the passages even smaller. During an attack, you might start coughing or wheezing (making a whistling sound as you breathe) or feel that you just can't catch your breath.

What causes asthma attacks? Many things act as triggers, and different people respond to different ones. Some people get asthma attacks from foods they are allergic to, or after exercising. Others get attacks when they have colds or infections, or when the weather changes.

But most asthma attacks are brought on by substances in the air. Dust or pollen can cause asthma attacks. So can hair from animals like dogs or cats. Roaches are a big problem because their waste and saliva are two of the most common triggers. Mold is also responsible for many asthma attacks. Smoke -- from burning wood, coal, gas or cigarettes -- is another common trigger. So are smog and diesel exhaust. Fumes from pesticides, cleaning products and paint can cause attacks, too.

What Kids Can Do
Asthma is very common, so even if you don't have it yourself, you probably know people who do. If you have asthma, you need to work with your family and your doctor to control it and to eliminate asthma triggers. Make sure your teachers, the school nurse and school administrators know about your asthma, and about any medications you take for it.

This fact sheet can't tell you specific steps to follow to control your asthma. Those depend on your situation and your doctor's recommendations. But school officials can take steps to make school a safer place for you by removing asthma triggers and improving air quality. You should never have to miss school because of your asthma.

The next section lists some important steps your school should follow. Remember that in many cases, kids can help too -- by keeping clean, reporting leaks and other actions. For more information, check out our fact sheet on indoor air quality in schools. The Environmental Protection Agency's IAQ Tools for Schools program offers detailed, practical advice for schools on improving indoor air quality, with a special focus on asthma. The American Lung Association also has reliable information on asthma. Visit www.lungusa.org or call them at 1-800-LUNGUSA.

What Your School Can Do
Although these steps are extra important for kids with asthma, they'll help the entire school. Everyone benefits from cleaner air.

Related Fact Sheets
Indoor Air Quality in Schools
Schools and Cleaning Products
Painting Schools
Renovating Schools
Pesticides and Schools
Diesel School Buses

For more information
Children's Med. Ctr. of U. Va's asthma tutorial

The Green Squad is a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in collaboration with the Healthy Schools Network. © Natural Resources Defense Council.