School Absences Due to Asthma: The Role of Indoor Air Quality

Last updated: 03-28-2021

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School Absences Due to Asthma: The Role of Indoor Air Quality

How often are school absences due to asthma? Unfortunately, the answer is: it's very common.

In many schools, the overall indoor air quality is poor. This has a range of ill effects. Research shows that poor indoor air quality in schools is linked to reduced school performance, causing decreased concentration during class and increased absenteeism. As well as this broad impact, studies conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment stated that allergens found in schools affect the respiratory health of children with asthma.

What is the link between indoor air quality, and school absences due to asthma? And what can schools and parents do to improve conditions for learners? Why is an air quality monitoring device key? Read on to find out.

When the indoor air quality in schools is poor, students suffer. And indoor air can actually be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air due to a combination of outdoor pollution that gets in, plus allergens, chemicals, smells, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Children are more vulnerable to breathing in air pollution as they breathe more rapidly than adults.

Many US public schools are made up of old, deteriorating buildings with very poor indoor air quality. A American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report stated that 53% of the nearly 100,000 public school buildings need repairs, renovations, and modernizations just to be considered in “good” condition. This is alarming knowing that in the United States, more than 53 million children and 6 million adults spend a large part of their days in more than 120,000 public and private schools.

Parents and teachers have also raised questions about the quality of ventilation available in public school classrooms, as 40% of U.S. schools need to update or replace their ventilation systems.

This overall poor IAQ in schools is worrying for anyone concerned by asthma.

Studies have shown that ambient air pollution also increases your chances of developing asthma, particularly in young children whose lungs are still developing. A recent study by the University of Southern California found that a slight decline in L.A.’s ambient air pollution over the last two decades reduced local childhood asthma rates by 20%.

This shows how important it is to optimize the indoor air in schools. Breathing in high concentrations of pollutants aggravates asthma symptoms, and increases the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

Some of the most common asthma triggers contributing to the rise of school absences due to asthma include dust mites, pests, and mold. Other triggers include VOCs, PM2.5, and carbon dioxide (CO2). All of these are more common in old buildings, like the buildings that make up most public schools.

Breathing ambient particles (PM2.5) pollution can cause health effects such as chronic airway swelling and irritation, which is especially dangerous for people with preexisting respiratory conditions like asthma.

Asthma has a negative impact on children’s school life. Children spend an average of seven hours a day in school, and that doesn’t include before- and after-school activities. Removing the causes of asthma flare ups in schools, and reducing school absences due to asthma, means attacking a range of factors related to indoor air quality standards for school buildings with these metrics:

Annual funding to keep up school buildings tend to fall short. School administrators need to focus their efforts on providing energy-efficient school facilities that have good indoor air quality, comfortable temperatures, and quality lighting.

Without funding, many schools are limited in the steps they can take. Increasing teacher and parent awareness of how important indoor air quality is to the health and safety of students is a low-cost first step that could have a big impact.

To reduce school absences due to asthma, EPA suggests that parents watch for these signs that indoor air quality in schools is affecting their child’s health:

Click here for more facts about asthma in children.

The EPA suggests that school administrators should develop a coordinated asthma management plan. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) has developed a COVID-19 and Asthma Toolkit for Schools to guide parents and schools as they return to face-to-face classes safely.

School absences due to asthma can be prevented if you involve the community. It is important to work together to eliminate common asthma triggers to alleviate asthma symptoms. School admins and educational boards should promote an asthma-friendly learning environment at school.

Knowledge is power. By proactively monitoring air quality inside classrooms and other school facilities, parents and administrators can begin to solve any IAQ issues.

Awair Omni’s air quality monitoring device will alert you when common asthma triggers like PM2.5 or VOCs are present. It measures five air factors that affect air quality, as well as light and noise.

Now’s the time for school administrators to start exploring how improving indoor air quality in schools can effectively reduce school absences due to asthma.

Once you understand what your IAQ issues are, it can be straightforward and easy to apply the right course of action. From monitoring, comes solutions.

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