Schools should be more aware of the danger posed by asthma, according to a new initiative launched by the National Asthma Campaign.
Its study has found that many schools do not have a policy on asthma, and that there is inconsistency in whether pupils are allowed to keep potentially life-saving inhalers with them.
Marjory O'Donnell, the NAC's head of development in Scotland, comments: "People are reluctant to get involved from a fear that they might get something wrong. Also, teachers feel that inhalers might be a distraction."
In a recent survey conducted over the United Kingdom as a whole, many teachers were not sure how to cope with asthma in spite of the fact that there could be several sufferers in each class. One third of pupils with asthma said they had experienced an attack at school.
Melinda Letts, chief executive of the NAC, said: "Every single school should have an asthma policy which allows all children to carry an inhaler with them or, in the case of the youngest, gives them easy access to it."
Teachers need to be competent as well as confident in dealing with any problems that might arise from asthma, according to Ms O'Donnell, and adequate training should be provided to help teachers deal with such situations. The NAC estimates that just over half of all problems relating to asthma were triggered by exercise and says PE teachers particularly need to be aware of how to react.
This should not, however, rule out physical activity for children; swimming, in particular, should be encouraged as a means of helping them overcome their condition.
Many pupils who have asthma feel embarrassed about using their inhaler in front of their classmates. "We are in favour of self-management of asthma, " Ms O'Donnell states. "Children need to be aware of how to use their inhalers. "
A video, suitable for both primary and secondary schools, has been produced to accompany the new initiative and is aimed at both pupils and staff. It covers the medication, what it feels like to have an attack and what to do during an attack as well as what can precipitate problems with asthma.
The NAC is already running an information initiative at local level in Dumfries and Galloway along with the local education department and health board, Arthur Wainwright, the local NAC organiser has found frequent levels of ignorance among pupils about the most appropriate medicine to take. If teachers knew more about the condition they could help them overcome the difficulties.