Warning of back-to-school spike in asthma

A spike in asthma hospitalisations when children return to school has prompted a warning for parents, caregivers and schools to be prepared.

“Asthma attacks are particularly common for children when going back to school, especially following the long summer holiday,” says Teresa Demetriou from the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ.

Studies have shown that viral infections are likely to be the main cause in the spike of asthma hospitalisations. Other causes include less strict asthma management over the holidays, a change in environment with greater exposure to allergens, and a change in emotions such as stress and anxiety.

Parents are urged to take preventative measures. “The best thing to do is be as prepared as possible,” says Teresa Demetriou of the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ.

“Asthma Action Plans need to be provided to schools along with updated emergency contact details. Children need to be taking their preventer medication as prescribed if they have one, and bring their reliever inhaler to school.”

“Make sure your child knows what their triggers are so they can do their best to avoid them. It’s important to reduce exposure to germs, which includes washing hands with soap as needed. We also highly recommend all families with asthma to get their flu vaccination in March,” says Demetriou.

Jackie Hartley, mother of 10-year-old Mayim who has chronic lung disease says, “Having a support network is really important. Mayim’s family, friends and teachers know what he’s like and keep an eye on him. They know what symptoms to look out for and when to get help.”

In 2013, there were 3730 hospitalisations for children in New Zealand under the age of 15 years old.

Quick asthma facts in New Zealand:

  • Over 460,000 people take medication for asthma − one in nine adults and one in seven children
  • Large numbers of children (3,730 or 430.9 per 100,000 in 2013) are still being admitted to hospital with asthma, and some of these will have had a potentially life-threatening attack
  • By far the highest number of people being admitted to hospital with asthma are Māori, Pacific peoples and people living in the most deprived areas: Māori are 2.9 times and Pacific peoples 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalised than Europeans or other New Zealanders, and people living in the most deprived areas are 3.2 times more likely to be hospitalised than those in the least deprived areas
  • The cost of asthma to the nation is over $800 million per year (Telfar Barnard et al., 2015).

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ has a free school asthma checklist to download on their website at: asthmafoundation.org.nz

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