In the deep South, where school starts early, students have already been in school for nearly two months. In the rest of the country, it’s still early in the school year. Students are settling into new class routines. Teachers are getting a feel for their students’ needs and personalities. And parents are ever mindful of school safety issues. Medical emergencies in school are common—twenty-five percent of students have special medical needs or a chronic health issue—yet many schools are unprepared to manage them.
Now is a great time for your agency to reach out to local schools to educate them about common emergencies. It’s equally important to brush up on your own emergency preparedness skills. Here are the five most common school medical emergencies.
Even as schools move toward allergy-safe environments, anaphylaxis is impossible to completely prevent. Bee stings, peanuts, shellfish, milk, and eggs are the leading causes of anaphylactic reactions. Students with a known allergy should have an EpiPen at school. Students recently exposed to a sting or bite should be closely monitored. Moreover, all educators must know that allergies can kill, and that a rash, difficulty breathing, or changes in behavior could signal a dangerous reaction.
Rambunctious playground games, gym class, and misguided climbing attempts are prime culprits in falls at school. Nearly half a million children visit emergency rooms with head injuries each year. Falls can also lead to strains, sprains, and broken bones. It’s difficult for a layperson to assess whether a bump on the head is serious or minor, so any fall that injures the head or that causes bone or muscle pain warrants further investigation. Schools must teach educators to promptly intervene and call 911 any time a child injures their head.
Some children have their first epileptic seizure at school. Students who suffer from febrile seizures may also experience seizures in the classroom. A seizure can lead to falls, head injuries, and even choking if the student isn’t properly monitored. Students with seizure disorders must have appropriate support and monitoring from educators. Schools must also educate staff about strategies for keeping students safe during and after a seizure. Most importantly, a seizure must always be treated as an emergency, even if the student has a history of prior seizures.
Kids do things that, to adults, seem shockingly ill-informed. Most of us know a kid who ate part of a frog during a high school dissection or who inhaled paint fumes in the bathroom. Today’s kids are no different. Attempts to impress friends can cause them to do misguided things that put them at risk of poisoning. Careless behavior, such as not washing hands or mixing the wrong chemicals, is also a major source of danger.
Schools must know which chemicals are dangerous and carefully monitor them to ensure students don’t gain access. Any time a student is suspected of consuming a dangerous substance, schools must immediately call 911 and poison control.
Choking is a leading cause of death among children, especially kids under 4 years old. Schools that educate the youngest children must be cautious. That includes avoiding foods that are choking hazards, such as candy and popcorn, and never allowing students access to small objects.
Even among older children, choking is common. Every school should post details on the Heimlich maneuver and consider offering CPR and choking intervention classes. Most importantly, choking must always be treated as a medical emergency—not a joke, and certainly not something a child is doing to get attention.
Your Role in School Emergency Management
EMS providers are more than just first responders; they’re also a primary source of information on emergency prevention. Consider partnering with your local school district to offer a seminar on emergency response or inviting parents to a monthly seminar at your agency headquarters. It’s a great way to get involved in the community, and you may even save some lives.
Emergency medical suction can save lives in many school medical emergencies, including choking, head injuries that interfere with breathing, respiratory distress, and anaphylactic reactions. To learn more about the right suction machine for your agency, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device.