Pediatric asthma is considered the most common chronic serious disease among infants and children, with approximately 8.4 percent of children diagnosed in the United States. Within the past two decades, the prevalence of asthma has steadily risen and the number of people with asthma increased by 28 percent between 2001-2011. More than 11.4 million people with asthma, including more than 3 million children, report having experienced one or more asthma episodes or attacks in 2017.
While asthma is often a lifelong condition with a high disease burden, there are ways to reduce symptoms and control the disease. For children, asthma exacerbations can worsen in the fall, during a time when they return to school and are faced with increased viral infections and allergen exposures. Many more people — primarily school-age children — are hospitalized for asthma shortly after school starts than any other time of the year. Because kids are in close contact with other students, it becomes increasingly important for parents and families to equip themselves with resources to help mitigate the effects of asthma.
1. Identify Potential Triggers
While each case of asthma has its own specific set of exposures that can worsen symptoms, common triggers include tobacco smoke (including secondhand smoke), dust mites, pollution caused by outdoor air, pets, pollen, and mold. This kind of allergic asthma is the most frequent, affecting around 60 percent of all asthma cases. Both types of asthma have the same symptoms, including wheezing and shortness of breath.
2. Share Child’s Treatment Plan with Educators and School
All children should have a written and printed “Asthma Action Plan” that details their medications, triggers and flare-up symptoms, peak flow measurements that might indicate worsening asthma, and any medicines or symptoms that indicate the need for more urgent medical attention. Action plans should also include numbers for appropriate emergency contact(s) and healthcare provider information.
3. Be Careful of Viral Infections
Viral infections are more prevalent in the community during this season, as sickness becomes more widespread when children are back in school and in large groups. While children with asthma are not more likely to catch a virus than those without asthma, their illnesses are generally longer and more severe. A study that examined tens of thousands of asthma hospitalizations in Canada over a 12-year period found that there were twice as many hospitalizations in October, compared to July or August.
4. Schedule Asthma Check-Ups
Due to the variability of asthma, it’s important to regularly follow up with routine asthma check-ups at periodic intervals. Planned visits should always be scheduled with children’s healthcare providers, as asthma can not only change over time, but responses to asthma medications and therapies may also fluctuate. Even when kids are symptom free, they should be following up with medical provider regarding their asthma for proper asthma control.
5. Ensure Good Medication Routines
It’s important to develop consistent medication routines with children before the school year begins, including proper usage of long-term asthma control medications like inhaled corticosteroids. These medications, when taken regularly and correctly, can control chronic symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. While adherence can be difficult among children, caregivers and educators can all become aware of appropriate inhaler techniques to ensure effective compliance.
While pediatric asthma episodes peak during September and the back-to-school months, there are ways to adequately control potential flare-ups and triggers. By facilitating continuous communication with school personnel and teachers, and teaching kids about proper medication usage, families and caregivers can implement preventive techniques to help combat the consequences of asthma — and mitigate exacerbations and attacks.