Support for Those Living with Adrenal Insufficiency

Adrenal Insufficiency In The Classroom: What every teacher needs to know.

two students

One of your students jumps off the swing and lands hard breaking his wrist.  Parents are called and the next day he shows up with a blue cast for all the kids to sign.

Now imagine this child is Adrenal Insufficient (AI), he doesn’t produce cortisol.  Without immediate and appropriate treatment he could be dead in 30 minutes or less.  How would you feel knowing you didn’t have the tools to help him, that by the time EMS arrived it could be too late because they don’t have the ability to help either.
Most Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel not familiar with the treatment of Adrenal Crisis nor do they have the medication on their ambulances to treat it.  Doctors advise parents and family members to give the Solu-Cortef® shot PRIOR to calling EMS or going to the ER.  Often school districts restrict a teacher’s ability to give injections and with all the budget cuts school nurses are not on campus either.

Why could a student die from a broken wrist?  Cortisol, often called the “Stress Hormone” is vital to life and regulates the heart, blood pressure and other vital body systems.  An Injury or illness causes the body to increase cortisol production up to 10x the normal amount. Someone who cannot produce cortisol needs an immediate injection of cortisol, (in the form of Solu-Cortef®), or their body systems will start to shut down causing coma, brain injury and eventually death.

Who’s at risk and why haven’t I ever heard of this?  There are over 60 causes of Adrenal Insufficiency, some are present at birth, others develop later, even those using long-term steroid inhalers for the treatment of asthma are at risk for (AI).  A recent study predicts that over 6,000,000 cases in the USA alone are still undiagnosed.  While more adults have AI than children it is still much more common than previously though.

What can you do?  When you receive word that a student in your class has Adrenal Insufficiency ask the parent if there are any special instructions or things you need to do when their child is sick or injured.  Make sure to inform parents of any illnesses that are going around in the classroom.  A “simple” stomach bug can cause an adrenal crisis and require injection and hospitalization.  If your district allows you to administer injections get trained.  If they don’t let you administer please advocate for your student and make sure someone on the school campus can administer the injection in an emergency.  Don’t assume the paramedics will rush in and save the day, most likely they don’t have the ability to inject either.

What might you see in a child with Adrenal Insufficiency?  Adrenal Insufficiency, like diabetes, affects each child differently, but there are many common symptoms.

  • Darkened skin (like a tan), especially on knuckles and other joints
  • A child who has an unusually fast growth spurt or is significantly shorter then others in the class.  This is especially true for children who’ve not been diagnosed yet or those who are not receiving the proper dose of medication.
  • Early signs of puberty
  • Frequent stomach aches or head aches
  • Sore joints
  • ADD type behaviors and memory/concentration issues  (people with AI say they feel “foggy”)
  • A child who seems to have emotional mood swings.  (since children with AI don’t make cortisol they don’t deal with emotional stress very well)  Some can seem aggressive or easily angered.  (Children can be like yoyos, crying one moment, happy the next, then angry.  All within a couple of hours.)

Your student with AI can be affected by both positive and negative stress.  Another danger issue is dehydration because 75% of those with AI also lack the ability to maintain the fluid and electrolyte balance in their body.  Students must be allowed to drink Gatorade or other electrolyte replacements.

Kids with AI are tough, they live with this chronic condition every day, taking medications, going to doctors for blood tests etc.  Older students with AI have learned to listen to their body and know when they need extra medications.  Students in all age groups need heath plans and/or 504s.  Depending on how each is affected by AI some will need IEPs.

As both a teacher and parent of a child with Adrenal Insufficiency I have usually had the ability to make sure someone on site was able to administer the life saving injection to my daughter.  Then, when my daughter was in high school she spent some time in a school out of State.  I soon experienced the fear that most other parents face when they send their child to school. The nurse at the school informed me that the district would not allow any staff member to inject.

Adrenal Insufficiency can be deadly so fast!  So I ask, as a parent and fellow teacher, please help create awareness about this condition.  Please sharing this blog and all the others we’ve been posting this month.    Fill out the form below so we can send an information kit free of charge to your district nurse.

Written by Jennifer Knapp:  AIU Executive Director and former Special Education teacher.  The story about the child and broken wrist is one I made up as a way to introduce this blog.  Every child is different and a broken wrist would not cause ALL children with AI to go into severe adrenal crisis.

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