Don’t let the September asthma peak hit your family.
Schedule a doctor's appointment to review your child's Asthma Action Plan.
By Purvi Parikh, M.D.Aug. 17, 2015 | 7:00 a.m. EDT+ More
When children with asthma go back to school in the fall, they carry more than just a new backpack and trendy lunchbox – they also tote a load of concerns: Will I get that tight feeling in my chest again when I ride the bus? Will I cough and not be able to keep up with my classmates during gym class? Will I need to use my inhaler?
It's no wonder they often have trouble focusing.
Other risk factors that tag along with the new school year:
• High concentrations of ragweed pollen and mold in the air that play havoc with nasal allergies and asthma
• Crowded classrooms, shared books and pencils that ease the spread of cold and flu germs
• Emotional stress and anxiety that tighten airways and lower resistance
• Seasonal changes in temperature variations that can set off asthma symptoms
• Indoor allergens such as dust mites and mold in the classroom that become a concern as children spend more time at school
• New seasons of sports such as soccer, tennis, football or swimming that can affect exercise-induced asthma
Statistics show that asthma flares and trips to the emergency department peak during the third week of September.
Don't let it happen to your child. Take time to prepare.
Schedule a doctor's appointment to review your child's Asthma Action Plan. This is an individualized plan of prevention and treatment that lays out exactly what to do when symptoms arise. Many schools require it to be on file.
• Recognize that asthma is more than just wheezing. The most common symptom of asthma is actually coughing.
• Include children in the conversation, helping them understand when, why and how to take medications.
• Talk about ways to prevent symptoms: What allergens or irritants tend to set them off? Can you reduce exposure to these? If you don't know what triggers your child's symptoms, ask to see an allergist for testing.
• If exercise sparks your child's asthma, ask about preventive medication. If a medicine is prescribed, make sure it is available at school and during the times the child is exercising (i.e., sports practice, gym class).
• Ask the asthma educator to review the way your child uses an inhaler, to make sure the medicine gets deep into the lungs. Ask about a holding chamber, if you don't already have one.
• Schedule a flu shot – usually available in doctor's offices and pharmacies as early as August. They are recommended for all children 6 months and older, especially those with asthma. Some older teenagers and college students with asthma also require the pneumonia vaccine – discuss this with a physician.
• Check expiration dates on all medicines, and renew if necessary. Ask for an extra quick-relief bronchodilator inhaler to store in the school clinic.
• Make sure children take daily medication as prescribed, whether they're having symptoms or not. Don't slack off on prevention. Some children's asthma symptoms ease during the summer, then return in the fall and winter.
• Monitor your child's use of the quick-relief bronchodilator (albuterol or levalbuterol), and contact the doctor if your child needs to use the inhaler more than twice a week (except before exercise) as that might indicate that asthma is not well controlled. Children who do rigorous exercise daily may benefit from a change in their inhaled medicine to better control their exercise symptoms.
• Consider using a daily diary to monitor symptoms and medication use.
• Fill out and submit all school health forms. Does your child have permission to carry a quick-relief bronchodilator inhaler at school? All 50 states have laws giving students the right to carry and self-administer asthma medication, but you must follow school regulations.
• Meet with your child's teacher to explain how asthma affects your child and ways the teacher can monitor or help. Give the teacher a copy of the Asthma Action Plan.
• Think about whether classroom or school activities are likely to expose your child to allergens or activities that tend to set off symptoms, then work with the teacher to reduce exposure. (Free resource: Allergy & Asthma Network's Indoor AIRepair at Home, School and Play.)
• Enabling and empowering children not only makes the disease manageable and less scary for them but ensures they will have optimal control and be able to identify warning signs even when parents are not there to monitor them. Most children can identify their triggers and know what to do as well as – if not better than! – adults.
• Asthma does not have to slow or limit children from a normal life if they are prepared and practice prevention.
• Brainstorm with your child about the best way to keep the inhaler close at hand. Be creative! A special padded pouch inside the backpack might protect the inhaler and keep it clean. Put a copy of the Action Plan in the pouch, too.
• Help the child learn to listen to his or her body's early warning signals, and use medications responsibly.
• Help your child make healthy lifestyle choices: get plenty of sleep; eat nutritious foods; exercise every day; establish good personal hygiene.
Purvi Parikh, MD, is an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, the leading nonprofit patient education organization for people with allergies, asthma and related conditions. She practices in New York City at Allergy and Asthma Associates of Murray Hill and New York University School of Medicine. She sits on the Board of Directors for the advocacy council of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.