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Breathing easier

More than 7 million children in the United States have asthma. In 2009, over half of them suffered attacks and were at risk of hospitalization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

In Red Wing schools, district nurse Kris Klassen said the district's goal is to try to help the students monitor their own health and hopefully prevent those severe attacks.

"We'd like the kids to get into an asthma management (routine) to take care of their body and get into the doctor when they need to," Klassen said.

During an asthma attack, airways swell and less air can get into the lungs, the CDC says. Mucus further clogs the airways and the sufferer coughs, wheezes and has trouble breathing.

Red Wing School District keeps an asthma action plan on file for most students who have the disease so that school staff know what to do when a child has an attack.

The plan is filled out by the child's doctor and is specific to each patient. It has information about what the student's asthma attack triggers are, what medication they should take and how much medication they need. The plan also tells what symptoms the child might experience during an attack and when it's necessary to get medical help.

Klassen said the plan helps her and the other nurses to "maintain a control" on the each child's disease.

Though asthma is not curable, the CDC said it is treated in two ways: using quick-relief medicines to help during attacks and pills for long-term management.

Inhalers fall under the quick-relief method, and Minnesota law allows all children who need them to carry their own inhaler, regardless of age.

Klassen says students must have an order from a doctor to carry an inhaler, and parents must let the school know that the child is doing so. The student also needs to demonstrate that he or she can administer it properly.

Lastly, even though asthma triggers vary from person to person, Klassen said some preventative measures are in place in Red Wing's schools. For example, many teachers and staff don't wear heavy perfumes, which can trigger attacks in some people.

And though not done specifically for asthma sufferers, Klassen said the air in the school buildings is filtered to remove dust, bugs and germs from the air, other common asthma triggers.

Because of that, Klassen said "schools ... are probably one of the best atmospheres (for asthma-sufferers) to be in right now."

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.