Missouri's School Nurses Key to Managing Kids' Asthma
ST. LOUIS — It's estimated that 150,000 school-aged children in Missouri have asthma. But school nurses say much can be done to help kids succeed in school despite this chronic lung condition.
Children with asthma can experience wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing. Although the exact cause of asthma is unknown and there's no cure yet, it can be controlled. Deb Cook is a registered nurse and has been a school nurse in the Kennett School District for 26 years. She knows asthma can make it difficult for kids to learn.
"For example, asthma affects a child who is in the classroom, it affects school attendance,” Cook said. “If a child has difficulty breathing in the night when they're trying to sleep, they're not going to be well rested, they're not going to do as well with academics."
Asthma is the leading chronic illness among children and adolescents in the U.S. and affects more than 7 million children under age 18. According to the Missouri KIDS COUNT organization, nearly 10 in every 1,000 children experienced an emergency room visit for asthma in 2015.
Asthma also is the third-leading cause of hospitalizations for children under 15, and a leading cause of school absenteeism. But Cook said many trips to the nurse's office or emergency room can be avoided when asthma is controlled. She noted kids often come to school without their asthma medicine or inhaler.
"The perception of asthma is, you just take medicine and it relieves the symptoms,” she said. “But the big point is, asthma needs to be controlled so it doesn't limit the child and allows the child to be more successful, and feel better."
In Missouri, some areas have more cases of asthma than others. Cook is with the Kennett School District, where 17 percent of kids have asthma, compared to 5 percent in some other districts. She said variations from one district to another can often be attributed to poverty levels, higher rates of smoking by parents, or the use of chemicals on nearby farm crops.
"One thing I have found to be key is the education with the child and parents,” she said; “but also, coordination of care between the physician and the child and the school nurse."
State data indicate Missouri has one of the highest smoking rates among pregnant women in the U.S., with 1-in-15 reporting they smoked during pregnancy.