Whether your child is starting school for the first time, or returning to school for another year, the beginning of a new school year is a very busy time for families. With 1 in 8 Queensland children living with asthma, Asthma Foundation Queensland is encouraging parents to ensure they are prepared for their child’s asthma this school year.
The Back to School Asthma Spike
In Australia, there is a well documented spike in hospital emergency department presentations amongst children and adolescents due to asthma at the beginning of each school year. The spike usually lasts for the first two to four weeks of the school term, peaking in mid to late February.
Why does the spike occur?
Upon return to school, with large numbers of children coming together, the potential to share cold viruses between students increases, and as such, a spike in asthma symptoms associated with colds may result. This not only affects students with asthma, but also parents who may catch the virus from their child.
Additionally, over the school holidays children and adolescents are less likely to have a structured, day-to-day routine as they do during the school term. As a result, it is common for children and adolescents with asthma to be less vigilant in taking their preventer medication every day, as prescribed. This can potentially lead to underlying inflammation and mucus production in the airways which could increase the risk of an asthma flare-up upon returning to school.
Poorly controlled asthma, or an asthma flare-up, can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn, participate and concentrate at school. In fact, asthma is a leading cause of absenteeism in school students. When asthma is poorly controlled, students are more likely to be easily fatigued and lack concentration. This may cause them to fall behind in school work, and limit their participation in school sport and other curricular activities.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a long-term condition which affects the airways in the lungs. People with asthma have sensitive airways that narrow in response to a trigger. When a person with asthma is having an asthma flare-up, the muscles around the airways squeeze tight, the airways swell and more mucus is produced. This makes it hard to breathe. The most common symptoms of asthma include:
- Tight chest
- Persistent cough
Symptoms of asthma can vary over time, and from person to person. For most people, asthma can be well-controlled by following a daily management plan.
How can I be prepared?
- Provide a blue/grey reliever medication (e.g. Ventolin), with the original pharmacy label, and spacer to the school for your child to use.
- Supply an up-to-date Asthma Plan written and signed by your child’s doctor to the school.
- Complete and return appropriate medical and medication authorisation forms to the school (if required).
- Maintain regular communication with school staff, and notify school staff if there is a change in your child’s asthma management, or asthma control.
- Register for Asthma Assist (see details below) and keep up-to-date with the latest information and research about asthma.
What can I expect from my school?
All schools have different policies and procedures for managing asthma. Below are actions that your child’s school may undertake to care for students with asthma.
- Provide parents with medical and medication authorisation forms for completion.
- Request an up-to-date Asthma Plan written and signed by your child’s doctor.
- Notify parents if their child required blue/grey reliever medication during school hours.
- Ensure majority of staff are trained in the National Asthma First Aid Procedure.
- Maintain easy and quick access to blue/grey reliever medication and spacers at all times (including school excursions and camps).
What is Asthma Assist?
Asthma Assist is a free asthma information and support service offered by Asthma Foundation Queensland. Registering for Asthma Assist enables you to use the 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462) infoline service, and keep up-to-date with the latest asthma research, information and medications. You can also elect to receive:
- An Asthma Control Pack
- Asthma Online e-Newsletter
- Asthma Update Magazine
To register, visit www.asthmaaustralia.org.au or phone 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462).
Written by: Ashley Walton, Programs Coordinator, Asthma Foundation Queensland
This article was published in Issue 8 of our print magazine, February/March 2015.