A spike in asthma symptoms and flare-ups among children who have asthma started this week and is expected to continue through September, according to primary care doctors and a review of past claims data and public health records by Univera Healthcare.
“An increase in the number of children’s asthma-related medical visits, asthma attacks and hospitalizations occurs each year at this time as kids return to school from summer break,” said Dr. Richard Vienne, Univera Healthcare vice president and chief medical officer. “The September peak is caused, in part, by the increase in respiratory infections among kids who are exposed to more germs once they return to school.”
The fall pollen season also can trigger an asthma flare-up, said Dr. Steven Lana, managing partner with Delaware Pediatrics.
“First and foremost, it’s very important for all asthmatics to get a flu vaccine,” Lana said in an interview. “We started giving the seasonal flu vaccine already. The other very important variable is that children with known triggers should be on their controller medications at this time of the year.”
Parents also should consider sending an extra inhaler into school with their child, who can leave it with the school nurse in case of an asthma attack, Lana said.
Vienne said nearly 15 percent of Western New York children younger than age 18 have asthma, two percentage points higher than average for children upstate.
Univera’s review of upstate claims data from January 2014 to December 2016 reveals that children up to age 4 experience more asthma-related emergency room visits at this time of year (17.7 per 1,000) than children age 15 to age 17 (6.2 visits per 1,000).
Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County commissioner of health, urged parents of children with asthma to anticipate this annual asthma flare-up spike.
“Now is the time for parents to ensure that children prescribed asthma controller medication are using it as directed and that asthma rescue medications are available at both home and school,” Burstein said in a news release. “Consult with your pediatrician to develop or update your child’s asthma action or management plan. Asthma action plans indicate a child’s daily treatment, including which medicines to take and when to take them. It also explains how to identify when asthma symptoms are severe enough to contact the child’s pediatrician or to take him/her to an urgent care or emergency department.”
Burstein also noted that all adults and schools who care for a child with asthma should have a copy of the child’s asthma action plan and understand their responsibilities regarding the child’s care.
Asthma is one of the most common long-term diseases of children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It causes wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing at night or early in the morning. If you have asthma, you have it all the time, but “asthma attacks” occur only when something bothers the lungs. During an attack, airways become swollen and inflamed. The muscles around the airways contract and the airways produce extra mucus, causing breathing (bronchial) tubes to narrow.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology notes that some sufferers liken an asthma attack to a feeling of drowning, because the narrow air passages make it extremely difficult to breathe. Mild episodes may last only a few minutes; more severe episodes can last from hours to days, and become a life-threatening emergency.
Inhaler “rescue” medicines provide quick relief and open the airways for four to six hours after an attack, Lana said. Controller medicines don’t provide quick relief but target the inflammatory triggers responsible for the wheezing and other symptoms.
The common cold is one of the most frequent triggers for asthma attacks in very young children. Asthma triggers in late August and September also include the change from a relaxed, summer schedule to the structure of the school day and the impact it can have on medication schedules. In addition, spring, late summer and early fall are the peak times of year for molds and pollen, which can affect children living with asthma.
STEPS TO CONTROL A CHILD’S ASTHMA
– Check regularly with your child’s doctor to make sure that any prescribed asthma medication is working and that you have medications and supplies for home and school. Request a physician’s note if your child will need medications at school.
– Make sure your child takes all asthma medications as directed.
– Alert school staff regarding your child’s asthma, including details about your child’s asthma triggers and signs of an asthma attack.
– Empower your child by teaching him/her about asthma, including how to notice triggers and warning signs.
– Reduce asthma triggers at home by washing bedding with hot water once a week and using allergy-proof covers on mattresses and pillows.
– Prevent the spread of germs by encouraging proper hand-washing by the entire family and making sure that every family member age 6 months and older receives a yearly flu shot.
Source: Univera Healthcare