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School Health Reference Guide


The Region of Peel School Health Reference Guide is a supplementary resource to relevant Peel and Dufferin-Peel school board policies. Refer to school board policy first if you have questions or concerns.
What is asthma?

Asthma is a lung disease that does not go away. Approximately 2.7 million Canadian adults and children (ages four years and over) have asthma. Asthma plays a role in school absences and hospitalizations in children (Health Canada, 2006).

Asthma occurs in the smaller airways of the lungs. During an asthma attack the airways swell, muscles tighten, and mucous is produced. The result can be shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing. All of these symptoms do not always occurs as every asthma attack is different.

An asthma attack requires immediate attention. If left untreated, it can become progressively worse and potentially life threatening.

Signs and Symptoms of asthma

Every child reacts differently during an asthma attack. It’s very important for parents to discuss with school staff the signs and symptoms that are specific to their child. The earlier these signs of an asthma attack are recognized, the better chance that a serious asthma attack can be prevented.

More information regarding the signs and symptoms of minor and serious asthma attacks can be found on the Lung Association website.

Asthma Triggers

Triggers cause someone with asthma to have a reaction (asthma attack). Triggers, as well as the reaction to a trigger, vary with each individual. This emphasizes the importance of communication between parent, staff member, and student.

The following is a list of triggers that may cause an attack:

  • respiratory infections (viruses)
  • vigorous exercise or exertion
  • pollens
  • moulds
  • animal dander
  • dust
  • foods (e.g., nuts, peanuts, fish, milk, eggs, and more)
  • smoke
  • air pollution
  • strong odours (paint fumes, markers, glues, cleanser, inks, perfumes, hairsprays)
  • extreme weather (cold, humidity)
  • emotions (anxiety, laughing, crying)

More information about how to help students avoid asthma triggers can be found on the Ontario Lung Association website.

Asthma Medications

Reliever Medication

  • This medication is usually in a blue container.
  • It acts quickly, within a few minutes, by relaxing the muscles around the airways, opening them and allowing more air to pass through to the lungs.
  • This drug is sometimes referred to as a “breakthrough” medication and must always be accessible to the student. The reliever medication needs to be taken immediately after symptoms start to appear in order to prevent the condition from becoming worse.
  • A reliever may also be used in a preventive manner. For example, physicians often recommend taking a reliever medication prior to a “trigger,” such as exercise.

Controller Medication

  • This medication is usually stored in a container that is orange, brown, purple, or red.
  • A slower acting medication that helps prevents asthma symptoms or attacks (it won’t help during an asthma attack).
  • Controller medications decrease the swelling in the air tubes. This medication can be taken two times per day, usually prior to the school day and before bed.

Some asthma medications necessitate a mouth rinse after dosing; others may require the student use a spacing chamber to take the medication.

Community Resources

Asthma Education in Peel

Credit Valley Hospital Asthma Education Centre:
  • Can provide presentations on asthma for school staff/parents. Also offers anaphylaxis training to school staff per the recommendations of Anaphylaxis Canada.
  • Can provide a school based asthma program over the lunch hour to children six to 12 years with asthma, called the Roaring Adventures of Puff (RAP). The program runs once a week for six weeks in the school.
  • To make arrangements for a presentation or the RAP program, contact the Asthma Education Program Coordinator at 905-813-1100 ext. 6746.
Brampton Civic Hospital Asthma Education Clinic:
  • Can provide presentations to school staff and parent groups regarding asthma. Will also provide anaphylaxis training to individuals who obtain a referral from their family physician. Call 905-494-6443 for more information or to arrange an asthma information presentation.
Resources and Related Links
For more information on asthma resources and programs, call Peel Public Health at 905-799-7700. (In Caledon, call 905-584-2216).


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Revised: Friday January 08 2016