Children with asthma may find the condition easier to handle if their classmates get some asthma education, a UK study suggests.
Researchers found that in schools that offered an asthma education program to all students, children with asthma tended to do better than asthmatic children at other schools.
The findings suggest that quality of life for children with asthma is higher when their peers understand the disease, according to Dr. John Warner of the University of Southampton and colleagues.
While the asthma intervention included education for students and school staff alike, it had the greatest impact on asthmatic children’s classmates, Dr. Warner, the study’s senior author, told Reuters Health.
Educating all students, according to Warner, may help counter the “stigmatization” and lowered self-esteem that many asthmatic children would otherwise experience.
The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, included 24 elementary schools that were randomly assigned to offer either an asthma education program or a general workshop on the respiratory system. At schools with the asthma program, a nurse led workshops for both school staff and students.
Children were taught, among other things, “what it feels like” to have asthma and how to help a friend who is coughing or short of breath.
One year later, asthmatic children in the intervention schools showed better self-esteem and needed less medication to prevent attacks. They also said their asthma was less of an obstacle to being physically active.
In contrast, the researchers found, children in the comparison schools did not show similar improvements. In fact, girls in these schools who were newly diagnosed with asthma during the study reported a dip in their self-esteem.
It’s possible, according to the researchers, that these girls were more likely to be stigmatized because their peers did not receive asthma education.
“The current study,” they conclude, “has shown that the school is an appropriate setting in which asthma management can be improved.”
Warner said he believes that the program had strong enough benefits - and was short and inexpensive enough - that more schools should offer similar education.
SOURCE: European Respiratory Journal, May 2006.
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD