Can children carry inhalers at school?

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by patient expert Nancy Sanker.

My yearly routine includes talking to school staff about my son's asthma, filling out the appropriate forms and double-checking where his meds would be stored. It is a back-to-school challenge that can leave parents, not the students, breathless

Information from a recent American Lung Association (ALA) online survey of parents of children with asthma is somewhat disconcerting. It addressed parents' awareness of state laws allowing students to carry/ use inhalers, students' access to quick-relief medications, and the use of Asthma Action Plans.

The respondents reported that 58.7 percent were unsure if their states have laws allowing students to carry and use quick-relief inhalers. The fact is that 46 states, plus the District of Columbia, require that the self-administration of asthma medications be allowed in public and private schools. According to the ALA, every state except Connecticut, Louisiana, South Dakota and Vermont has a statewide law or regulation in place that requires schools to allow students to carry and use asthma inhalers.

This doesn't mean that students with asthma get an automatic green light to carry and use their quick-relief meds, but it does encourage schools to evaluate each student's maturity level, asthma symptoms, potential need for medication and their willingness to follow the

school's policy regarding carrying and using medications. Bottom line - communication between students, school staff, healthcare providers and parents/guardians is, as always, the key.

The majority of individuals surveyed (or 74.4 percent of parents whose children have inhalers at school), responded that the school does not allow students to keep inhalers with them. I'm wondering if schools have taken the time to assess individual cases or if parents even know that having rescue meds close at hand is a possibility.

The final "ah-ha" aspect of the survey reveals that 40 percent of the parents surveyed had never heard of an Asthma Action Plan, which is a crucial, potentially life-saving document. Every parent/guardian should supply one. Every teacher and coach should demand one. It is the paper (hopefully with picture attached) that details what an asthma attack or episode looks and sounds like for their child, what constitutes an emergency and what to do in case of an emergency. Every school staff member who comes into contact with the child, including the sometimes overlooked techs on playground duty, secretaries, and cafeteria staff, should have a copy.

Asthma is different for every child, so there is no "one size fits all" approach for asthma care. Sending a child with asthma to school without a Student Asthma Action Card (SAAC) is like sending a fledgling trapeze artist to practice without a net. You can access a SAAC form by visiting the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America at

Take some now to ensure that your child and the school staff have a healthy school year!