NEW YORK – Although it is commonly thought that children who suffer from asthma miss more school than their peers, a new study suggests this is not the case.
The study, of 19 inner-city Dallas schools, found that fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders with asthma had no more absences than their classmates without the lung disease.
Historically, childhood asthma was a major cause of missed school days, lead researcher Dr. Mark W. Millard told Reuters Health, but current therapies — typically inhaled corticosteroids to prevent asthma attacks — have changed that.
"This study shows that school-aged children with asthma may not suffer unduly from absences, if their asthma is well-controlled," explained Millard, medical director of the Baylor Foster Lung Care Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
"In 2009," he said, "parents should expect that their children with asthma should be able to compete on the same playing field as their non-asthmatic peers, participating in the same activities and achieving the same degree of success, with current asthma medications available."
Millard and his colleagues report their findings in the medical journal Chest.
In the U.S., asthma disproportionately affects inner-city children. Students in Dallas schools, Millard noted, have benefited from proactive measures to help control the problem.
Nearly all schools have a full-time registered nurse who develops an asthma management plan for each student with the lung condition. Nurses also complete continuing education on proper asthma management and can refer students who are not on the appropriate medication to neighborhood clinics for follow-up.
In their study, Millard and his colleagues found that students whose asthma had been identified by a school nurse had no more school absences than their peers whose asthma was spotted during a screening program conducted at the schools.
The nurses, Millard noted, were "really great" at identifying students with persistent asthma — which, he added, suggests that with well- trained school nurses, it may be unnecessary to have expensive, labor- intensive screening programs for asthma.
"A well-trained and empowered school RN may be the best solution to deal with the problem of uncontrolled asthma in children," Millard said.