Back to school is a dangerous time for children with asthma

Media release from the Asthma Foundation, NSW.

Asthma Foundation NSW is urging parents and carers of children with asthma to be aware of signs and symptoms, and familiarise themselves with asthma first aid in time for the dangerous back to school period.

The Foundation is issuing the warning following recent statistics from The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, which shows a significant increase in children being admitted to the emergency department during the back to school period.

According to the data from last year, four times the number of children were admitted to the emergency department due to asthma in February compared to January. 

Professor Dominic Fitzgerald, Respiratory and Sleep Senior Staff Specialist, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, said it is well-recognised that there’s a spike in admissions to emergency departments when children go back to school after the summer holidays.

“Looking at the data, we saw a dramatic increase in emergency admissions of children with asthma in February compared to January, which continued to peak up until May,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“This is largely driven by infection due to kids being in close proximity with each other and meeting new friends with new viruses,” he said.

Professor Fitzgerald said the majority of children with asthma that are admitted to hospital are under the age of five and added, “Parents and carers of children should be aware of the possibility of them having an asthma attack after the school holidays coming back to day care, preschool and school.”

To help combat this, researchers from The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research Institute are undertaking a study in school age children with asthma.

Dr Paul Robinson, Staff Specialist from the Department of Respiratory Medicine, The Children's Hospital at Westmead and Research Associate at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, is leading local research to develop new lung function tests that can be done in the home.

“We are trying to find the best ways to monitor a child’s asthma and to develop tools that will provide more detailed information about how well their asthma is controlled,” Dr Robinson said.

“By developing new lung function tests that can be easily performed in the home setting, we hope it will help parents recognize signs earlier of when their child’s asthma is worsening and help guide health professionals on a child’s asthma control, particularly if medication changes are required,” he said.

Asthma Foundation NSW Chief Executive Officer Michele Goldman said there are a number of ways to make sure your children stay well during this period.

“Parents should ensure their child’s asthma is reviewed by a GP before going back to school, but if you haven’t done this yet, now is as good a time as any,” Ms Goldman said.

“During this period it is absolutely vital that children take their preventer medication regularly as prescribed, and carry reliever medication at all times if permitted,” she said.

“It’s also important you provide the school with the revised asthma action plan and to keep an eye out for asthma symptoms, including wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, or persistent coughing."

What you can do:

There are ways you can ensure children with asthma stay well during the back to school period including:

  • Have their asthma reviewed by a GP and provide the school with an up-to-date asthma action plan and advised school staff if your child needs help with taking medication.
  • Ensure your child takes their preventer medication regularly as prescribed.
  • Make sure their medication is in date and provide a spare reliever (and spacer if they use this) to the school in case they leave theirs at home.
  • Keep an eye out for asthma symptoms especially in the first few weeks after school goes back. Check www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/symptoms.aspx to understand symptoms.
  • Familiarise yourself with asthma first aid by visiting http://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/Asthma_emergency.aspx