A team approach is needed to combat “back to school” asthma spike
With children around Australia returning to school, and to early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings, vigilance around asthma has been encouraged by the National Asthma Council Australia, who have warned of “flare ups” in asthma presentations during February, when asthma related complications account for a quarter of all asthmatic children’s admissions to hospital.
Australia has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, with one in nine children diagnosed with the respiratory condition, and the February flare up can be attributed to not taking medication as prescribed during the summer holidays, as well as the stress of returning to education, the change in environment and exposure to allergic triggers, as well as being in close contact with classmates.
Marg Gordon, a registered nurse and Asthma and Respiratory Educator at the National Asthma Council Australia, told GP News there were additional concerns this year, given the disruptions to healthcare services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may mean parents and carers “have become complacent”.
“I’m based in Victoria where we went through the long spells of lockdown and, in fact, for some children with asthma they’ve had reduced viral triggers; they weren’t going places, and their personal hygiene was much better,” she said.
“So those children potentially have been very well over last year. But, of course, then a little bit of complacency sets in and people can forget that especially with back to school and children mingling again, that can all change.”
While the Australian Asthma Handbook recommends all people with asthma have an asthma action plan, data shows that one third of Australian children aged up to 14 years do not have one, something which worries Ms Gordon.
“This has been a topical point for a long time [as] we all know that action plans are useful,” she said.
“We know that they help parents and carers know what to do, they can prevent visits to the doctor and, certainly, visits to the hospital – but not every child does have one.
“Schools and childcare centres ask for them, so it’s a really great time to remind everyone in the healthcare system to get ready and be prepared to do them.”
Even if a child has mild asthma that is currently well-controlled, Ms Gordon says having an action plan should be non-negotiable, because circumstances can rapidly change.
“An asthma plan can help people recognise a change in symptoms and how that child is; how to change medication to manage that and guidance on when to call the doctor, when to go to the hospital and when to call an ambulance.”
The National Asthma Council recommends that children be reviewed for their asthma at least twice a year, and Ms Gordon says given the concerns around children’s return to school, there’s no better time than the present.