Breathe easy knowing your child's asthma is well managed in school
September is the busiest time for asthma in children and experts say parents and teachers must have a management plan in place so they can enter the new school year with confidence.
AS the school term returns, parents of children with asthma are being urged to ensure they actively manage their child’s condition. Doing so will help stave off attacks and possible admission to hospital.
That’s according to Dr Basil Elnazir, paediatric respiratory consultant and board member and chairperson of the medical advisory group at the Asthma Society of Ireland.
“This is the busiest time of the year as we witness an increase in respiratory and asthma attacks. This is documented nationally and internationally,” he says.
Asthma conditions can range from mild to severe. Those with the moderate to severe form of the condition often require treatment or admission to hospital in September. In fact, emergency hospital admissions for children with asthma increase significantly during September.
The most recent figures from the Hospital In-Patient Enquiry Scheme show that, in 2012, hospital admissions for children suffering with asthma more than tripled between August to September. There were just 41 admissions of children between the ages of five and 14 in August compared to 143 in September.
Another worrying development is that the average length of hospital stays increased by 51pc, from 1.41 days in August to 2.14 the following month.
Affecting one in five children, asthma tends to raise its ugly head in September for a variety of reasons.
“Back-to-school time can be an exciting, and often stressful, time for many children. A change of environment, coupled with exposure to colds and viruses, means that children are exposed to more triggers,” says Frances Guiney, asthma nurse specialist with the Asthma Society.
Elnazir adds that the fact that many parents relax their child’s medication over the summer months, due to a lack of routine or good weather, can lull them into a false sense of security that medication is not needed when the weather shifts.
Emotional events can also trigger an attack, and if your child is just starting school, and excited or worried about it, this could affect the condition.
To help prevent an attack, Elnazir encourages parents to visit their GP and to put a management plan in place. Ask your GP for a written, personal asthma management plan for your child. This will include information on how to better control asthma symptoms, take medication as prescribed, and tell if asthma symptoms are getting worse.
“Also, carry out an MOT of your child’s medication. It might be out of date, or the device may not function as it should. Make sure it is clean and ready for use,” says Elnazir.
Guiney adds that teachers must also be vigilant for asthma triggers at this time of year, and that a management plan at school is essential.
“It is imperative that parents and teachers empower children with an asthma management plan to achieve maximum control over the condition and cope with the onset of any symptoms.”
For those with children just starting school, Guiney advises visiting the school and discussing the condition with the teacher or principal. Make sure their teacher knows they have asthma, what their triggers are and what to do in the event of an attack. Many schools have an asthma policy in place, and for those that haven’t, the Asthma Society has published guidelines on how to deal with it.
“Meet with the teacher or principal, and ask them where the medications are held,” she says. “Are teachers aware of how to give medication in case of an emergency? Can six, seven or eight year olds carry their own blue inhaler? Also check if there are any allergens at the school, and ask if they can be removed, if possible.”
Make sure your child carries their blue inhaler (reliever) at all times and that a spare reliever inhaler is left in school and labelled clearly with their name, says Guiney.
The Asthma Society’s own research found that children miss 10 days each school year due to asthma. However, Guiney says parents shouldn’t be afraid to keep their children at home if they are not well enough to attend school.
The flu vaccine is another thing parents should consider, says Elnazir. “In the UK, children over two years are all vaccinated against the flu. I would advise parents of children with moderate to severe asthma that they would benefit from the flu vaccine,” he adds.
Guiney warns parents not to underestimate the possible severity of asthma. One person with asthma dies each week in Ireland due to an attack.
“Having said that, it’s important to realise that asthma is a very controllable condition, and someone with properly diagnosed and managed asthma can live a normal life,” she adds.
To help parents and teachers prepare for the return to school, the Asthma Society of Ireland is hosting free asthma management clinics nationwide, with special visits to primary schools, from 15-26 September. Go to asthma.ie for further details.