Some Schools Don't Let Kids Carry Asthma Inhalers

FRIDAY April 27, 2012 -- Although all 50 states have laws that allow children with asthma to carry inhalers at school and 48 states have laws that let youngsters carry epinephrine pens for serious allergies, experts say that some kids are still being denied access to these lifesaving medications during the school day.

"Every school district handles this a little bit different, and for those who don't allow children to carry their medications, I think may be due to a lack of knowledge. School officials may not appreciate the risk that having epinephrine pens and inhalers in a locked office, instead of with the child, can pose," said Maureen George, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia.

"Fewer than 200 children die each year from asthma in the U.S. That number is low, but those deaths are preventable. And it's a double tragedy when you lose a child to a preventable condition. And, some of those deaths happen in schools," she said.

George said school officials may deny access to inhalers and epinephrine injectors because they're concerned about potential liability from allowing a child to carry their own medication. What if the child uses the medicine incorrectly? What if the child uses the medication and doesn't let an adult know? Or, what if a child allows another child to use their inhaler?

"I understand these concerns, but what's the liability in allowing a child with asthma to exercise without having access to an inhaler when a nurse may or may not even be at the school?" she added.

George said that drug abuse prevention concerns are often chief among those listed as reasons why children shouldn't carry their own medications. "But, do prescription medications really need to be grouped with illicit drugs?" George asked.

The bottom line, however, is that children and their parents now have the law on their side. Federal and state legislation allows children to carry their own inhalers. Not surprisingly though, there is paperwork that's required for youngsters to be able to do so.

Talk with your child's school nurse and get the required paperwork from him or her, ideally before school starts, advised Nancy Sander, president of the Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA).

"Meet with the child's doctor before school, or as soon as you get an asthma diagnosis if it's in the middle of a school year. Parents often aren't aware that they need to fill out the paperwork," said Sander.

George said that kids who can demonstrate that they know how to use an inhaler can usually be allowed to carry their own medication, regardless of their age. Children must also be responsible enough to tell an adult when they've used their medication. They must also understand that they can't share their medication with other children.

Sander said the AANMA is getting fewer and fewer calls every year about kids being denied the right to carry their own medication, but said it does still happen sometimes.

If your child is having an issue with carrying an asthma inhaler or an epinephrine pen, George said the first person you should contact is the school nurse. She said that a school nurse will often be willing to advocate for a child, and that's generally very helpful when you make your case to the school principal.

George said it's important to remember that "school principals make these rules with what they believe is the best interest of the children. They're not doing it to be punitive. So, you need to explain why this rule is not beneficial for your child. When presented with facts, they can make a case-by-case decision about your child being an exception. You can help break down the barrier," she said.

If children aren't mature enough to carry their own inhaler, Sander said it's important that the child's inhaler follows the child throughout the school day, from the classroom to gym to the playground and to after-school activities. That way, the medication can be administered without delay as soon as a child starts having symptoms.

More information

Learn more about your child's right to carry an asthma inhaler or injectable epinephrine at school, including a clickable list of each state's law from the Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics website.

Posted: April 2012


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