Smoke set to worsen back-to-school asthma

girl using asthma puffer

The National Asthma Council is calling on pharmacists to help children with asthma be well prepared for this year’s back-to-school asthma spike

The jump in asthma exacerbations as school goes back occurs every year: studies from Australia and the UK show that asthma hospitalisations surge during the first month of the school year, with cases in Australia tripling in children aged five to 14 and doubling in preschoolers.

But with many areas still affected by bushfires and poor air quality due to smoke haze, the Council warns that there is potential for asthma flareups at school to be particularly high during the first school weeks of 2020.

Asthma Council CEO Siobhan Brophy said that there is typically a sharp rise in the number of children being admitted to hospital with asthma in February.

This is thought to be due to a change of environment or allergens, shared viruses from new classmates, and less strict asthma management over the holidays.

“This year’s added factors of smoke and hazardous air quality from fires, coupled with high emotions such as stress and anxiety, are likely to trigger asthma symptoms,” she said.

“Pharmacists can help get children asthma-ready for school by asking parents about their child’s asthma control experience during poor air quality days and whether their child has an up-to-date asthma plan and puffer.”

She encouraged pharmacists to set up an in-store area for conducting back-to-school parents’ and children’s inhaler check-ups to help them perfect their technique and get the most out of their medications.

She also asked pharmacists to familiarise themselves wit the latest paediatric management recommendations in the Australian Asthma Handbook, which were updated in early 2019 as part of the last major review.

“Going back to school should be an exciting time for kids,” Ms Brophy said.

“Taking a few preventative measures before and during the first few weeks of school can go a long way to helping keep children with asthma out of hospital.”

The Asthma Council offered some tips for pharmacists to help prepare children with asthma for the new school year:

  • When children with asthma present for any reason, ask about their asthma and whether they are ready for asthma when at school;
  • Make sure each child has an up-to-date written asthma action plan and the child and/or parents understand how to follow it;
  • Remind parents to get their child back into their asthma routine before the school year starts, including taking preventer medications every day, if prescribed;
  • Recommend a full asthma check-up with a doctor before the school year starts, or at least before activities like sports or other physical activities start, to ensure all is as well as it can be;
  • Take the opportunity to check that the child and/or their parents are using inhalers correctly.

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