Asthma during exams
Exam season is stressful enough without asthma but ignoring any symptoms won’t make them go away. There are practical things you can do, so you won’t need to worry about coughing in the exam hall or feeling too unwell to revise.
Take your preventer inhaler every day as prescribed
If you can start doing this before your exams, you’ll build up loads of protection by the time they come about. But, don’t panic if you haven’t managed that, just start taking it as soon as you can.
Bring your reliever inhaler into your exams
Let your school, college or university know about your asthma beforehand, so they know you’ll be bringing your inhaler.
Deal with your hay fever
Annoyingly, exam time often falls in the pollen season. Luckily, all you need to do is remember to take some hay fever medicines at the same time as taking your preventer. Just make sure you choose non-drowsy antihistamines – you don’t want to take an accidental nap during your exam!
Remember lots of brands sell exactly the same medication for different prices. So, you can just choose the cheapest pack of cetrizine hydrochloride, loratadine or whichever medication your doctor has suggested. You might even be able to get antihistamines cheaper by asking your doctor to prescribe you them in bulk.
Get help for dealing with stress
Stress can be an asthma trigger. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your exams, don’t try and muddle through on your own – get support.
Try talking to your doctor or asthma nurse about it. Booking an appointment won’t take long and then you can study without worrying about your asthma.
Getting support from your school or college
If you tell your school, college or university that you have asthma, then they'll be able to help. Who to turn to will depend on where you’re studying.
At school/college – your head of year, form tutor or a school nurse.
At university – university welfare support, student support services or your personal tutor.
Not sure what to say? You could run through your asthma action plan with them. Focus on what you need to do during an asthma attack, and if there are any specific triggers you need to avoid.
If you have told them but they’re not being very supportive, first try asking someone else who you think might help. If you’re still not getting the support you need, you could make a formal complaint.
Video: Danielle talks about controlling her asthmaAsthma UK talks to Danielle about how she's taken control of her asthma.
Danielle case study
0:00 Having asthma as a child was difficult at times because I've got a lot of triggers like pollen and smoke even just like going outside became an issue so walking past someone having a cigarette
0:09 It’d trigger me to have really bad symptoms and it was just because it was really, really unpredictable. My parents were really supportive when I was diagnosed, when I was 18 months old.
0:21 I didn't like my inhaler so they made it into dolls and lots of silly things like that. And they just got me into a really, really good routine with my asthma, so making sure that I took my preventer inhaler
0:31 twice a day, at the same time the stuff like that to make it really, really easy. But then, when I went to university, that changed because of, like, the change in the area and my routines changed and
0:42 that's when I really started to struggle
0:47 My asthma had reached a point where it had become life limiting and potentially life-threatening in the way that because I hadn't been, because I didn't even take my preventer inhaler when I was poorly, it
0:59 meant that it was affecting the elasticity of my airways, and I got told that eventually, one day, I would have an asthma attack, and because the elasticity which was decreasing in my airways there was nothing that anyone could do, and it would probably end up killing me.
1:17 I reached out to Asthma UK when I was really, really struggling and I got sent a load of resources like the Peakflow Diaries, and just leaflets about being an adult with asthma, and ways to just manage it and little things you don't
1:31 even think about. Now, since I've been in a really good routine with my asthma, it's really, really changed. It's not as noticeable and I can do a lot more than I used to be do. Like, I do open water
1:42 swimming, I've done the Great North Swim. And I dance, do whatever I want to and that's because it's all come under control, and become well-managed.
Support for severe asthma
Severe asthma can count as a disability according to The Equality Act 2010. That means you can get support from disability services at university or school. Plus, you could apply for a Disabled Students Allowance.
Missing classes or deadlines because of asthma
Lots of students have difficulties meeting deadlines for all sorts of reasons, so you're not alone. Tackle your worries by contacting your teacher or tutor and explaining the difficulties you're having. They may be able to extend your deadlines and quickly ease your stress. You’ll find this even easier if you told someone about your asthma when you started at the school or university.
Speak to your GP or asthma nurse if stress or anxiety is triggering your asthma. The welfare officer at your school/university might also be able to support you.
Using your inhaler in class
It’s understandable that you might not want to draw attention to yourself in the classroom. But, think of it this way, quickly taking your reliever will be a lot less stressful than having a full-blown asthma attack.
Using your preventer every day as prescribed will make it less likely that you need your reliever inhaler at all.
“I’m open about my asthma – but lots of other students aren’t. I know people who have needed their reliever in lectures but have been too embarrassed to get it out. So, I’ve wrapped my inhaler in glittery stickers to make it a talking point, because I know that little thing keeps saving my life.” – Charlotte Duckett, 19, university student
Try setting a reminder on your phone to take your preventer every day in the way your doctor or asthma nurse prescribed. Each day at university or college is different, so you might find it hard to remember at first. Especially if you’re used to your parents reminding you to take it and you’ve left home.
You’ll also need to remember to get new inhalers once they’ve run out. An easy way to do this is to set up an Electronic Prescription Service with your pharmacist and GP.
Last updated March 2018
Next review due March 2021