Asthma ready at back-to-school time

When Tracy Ellem thinks ahead to the back-to-school routine for her two children, there are always a couple of extra things she makes sure to do.

As an asthma educator and the parent of an 11-year-old son with asthma, she knows the return to the classroom is a high-risk time for children with asthma, when there is a surge in symptoms, flare-ups and hospital admissions.

“Each year in the holidays we always go and see the GP to recap on everything that is going on and make sure that everything is as it should be,” she says.

“It’s also important to have an updated Asthma Action Plan.”

According to hospital data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, asthma admissions peak during late February for children aged for children aged between five and 14 years.

In 2017, the rate of admissions was four times higher during the early school year than in January.

While the exact causes of the spike are unknown, it is believed to be linked to a reduction in the use of preventer-medication over the summer holidays when symptoms are reduced.

Other factors are believed to be the impact of viruses when students return to school, allergens and stress.

But there are ways to try and minimise the risk of an asthma flare-up.

Ms Ellem says she is mindful her son follows his asthma routine during the school holidays, even when he has no symptoms, to maintain effective asthma management.

“We’ve had that conversation where we’ve had a break and [he] will be going back into that environment where there are more bugs,” she says.

“He has had that education right the way through.

“[Children with asthma] should be taking their medication right throughout the holidays.”

Asthma Australia advises parents of children with asthma to follow its simple Back to School Asthma Checklist to make sure their kids are “asthma ready” for the return to school.

Visit a doctor to update your child’s written Asthma Action Plan and visit your local pharmacy to buy the appropriate medication – often a combination of relievers, preventers and a spacer.

Discuss with the pharmacist the way your child uses their medication – especially the effective use of a spacer.

Once school has gone back, speak with your child’s teacher. Advise educators and school staff your child has asthma, tell them about their Asthma Action Plan, and give the school an extra reliever medication and spacer. This is to be used in the event of an asthma flare-up at school.

Ms Ellem says it is important to maintain an ongoing conversation with the school and teachers, in the event of changing asthma medications or treatments.

Also, she points out when students start at a different school – for example moving from primary school to high school – they must make sure the educators know about the child’s asthma and correct management.

It is also a good idea to speak with your child, to remind them to tell their teachers when they experience symptoms, and any triggers they might be aware of.

As children return to school, Asthma Australia wants parents and kids to be “asthma-ready”.

February is often a time of increased risks of asthma flare-ups, when kids can experience more symptoms. There are increased presentations and admissions for asthma to hospital.

Asthma Australia is making it easier to be prepared with their Back to School Asthma Checklist.

It encourages a check in with your child’s doctor for an asthma review and up-to-date Asthma Action Plan, to visit your local pharmacy to purchase spare asthma medication and check spacer technique, and to talk with school staff about your child’s asthma management.

Asthma Australia has also partnered with TerryWhite Chemmart to help break the cycle of back to school asthma.

With more than 450 TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacies across Australia, pharmacists are offering parents free consultations to discuss their child’s asthma management and check their technique using a spacer.

Asthma is a lifelong condition and right now, there isn’t a cure. But, for most of the one in nine Australians who have asthma, it can be managed well.

To prepared for Back To School, download the Asthma Checklist.