Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about the respiratory system, lungs, and asthma.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Asthma. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Chances are that you or your children know someone who has asthma. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 16 million adults and 7 million children live with asthma in the United States today. Children have probably heard about asthma at school or among friends, but may hold a few misconceptions about this disease. It is important for children to understand asthma and know what to do if they see someone experiencing an asthma flare-up. Learning about the condition will help children understand that asthma can be controlled, allowing people to live long, active, and healthy lives. It is also an opportunity to learn about how the body works. We recommend watching the Lungs movie for review. Many of the concepts in that topic will be addressed in this movie.

Review with children that when they breathe, air goes in through the mouth and nose, down the windpipe, and into the lungs via airways. Asthma is a condition that affects how people breathe. Most people with asthma breathe normally most of the time, but during an asthma flare-up, breathing becomes more difficult. The airways become inflamed and swell up, making it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs. Also, the muscles that line the airways contract, making the narrowing even more severe. Remind children that mucus is a sticky slime that helps protects parts of the body, such as inside the mouth and inside the airways. During an asthma flare-up, the body produces excess mucus that accumulates in the airways, causing even more obstruction to the movement of air. During an asthma attack, the person may cough or wheeze, which means breathing with a whistling noise. The person may also feel tightness in the chest or get a headache. It is crucial for children to understand that when they feel these symptoms, they are not necessarily having an asthma attack. Only a doctor can diagnose the condition, but with experience children with asthma learn to recognize the onset of a flare-up and can start their rescue treatment immediately. Also remind children that asthma is not contagious; it cannot be spread between people. Doctors are not quite sure what causes asthma, but know that asthma flare-ups can be controlled and managed in a healthy way.

In general there are two broad types of asthma. The most common tends to be a reaction to inhaled allergens such as mold, pet dander or dust mites; and the other tends to be triggered by non-allergic factors like respiratory infections, exercise, or emotions such as stress and anxiety. But as we learn more about genes it is becoming clear there are important individual genetic variations that influence what sets off an attack and how that attack will respond to treatment. Most asthma can be controlled by taking medication. One kind of inhaler contains a medicine that relaxes the muscles lining the airways – it is a “rescuer” used to treat an active flare-up quickly. Other inhalers contain anti-inflammatory medicine that reduces airway swelling and mucus in lung passages – these “controllers” are used to prevent attacks in patients who have frequently recurring asthma. The most important way of controlling asthma is to be aware of what can trigger attacks and being prepared for situations that could trigger symptoms. Some people with asthma keep a special journal or diary that describes when and where they experienced a flare-up and keep a list of triggers. Keeping a record allows them to prepare for future situations and avoid triggers when possible.

Most people with asthma know what to do when they are experiencing a flare-up. Remind children that when they see someone having an attack, they should be sure to give the person room to breathe and ask if they have their medicine or if they need help. They should go get a trusted adult to make sure the situation is under control. They should not slap the person on the back to help them breathe. If possible, the person should sit down and try to relax. It is important to emphasize that everyone should remain calm. Panic can worsen the situation. Encourage children to be good friends and watch out for each other.

Help children understand that asthma is a common condition that affects many people. People with asthma can still have pets, exercise, and play sports. They just need to pay attention to their bodies and their environment. Remind children that many Olympic and professional athletes have asthma. They shouldn’t let anything stop them from attaining their goals!

Filed as:  Asthma, Be Well, Health, K-3