Be mindful of children with asthma, says Helen O’Callaghan.

BACK-to-school can be exciting and stressful in equal measure, but for the one in five children in Ireland with asthma, the fear factor can rise higher.

Returning to the classroom can expose children to asthma-exacerbating triggers, which, according to the Asthma Society of Ireland, leads to frightening visits to emergency department and even hospital stays.

In 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available, 127 children, aged 5-14, were admitted to hospital that September, compared to 53 the previous month. 

In the 5-9 age group, the increase was 196%, from 31 in August to 92 in September.

Pheena Kenny, health promotion manager with the Asthma Society, cites triggers facing the 180,500 school-going children with asthma this month: Exposure to colds and flu; change in environment (chalk dust, cleaning products); and emotions such as stress or excitement.

In addition, families sometimes take a more relaxed approach to asthma-control during the holidays. 

“They might skip use of the preventer inhaler. We sometimes recommend this be taken as part of the child’s routine, so when the routine’s not there as much during the holidays, use of the inhaler can fall off,” says Kenny, adding that asthma is a wholly controllable (with medication) disease. 

“Taking the preventer inhaler morning and evening helps with that.”

With every classroom having at least one child with asthma, Kenny says it’s really important the whole school community has awareness of what asthma is, how it’s controlled, and what to do in case of an attack.

Last academic year, the society developed and piloted the Asthma Friendly School Award — approximately 18 schools participated.

One mum of two children with asthma says her sons used to dread returning to school. 

“Without fail it brought about a worsening of their asthma. On one occasion my eldest had to be rushed to hospital by ambulance. [It was] a terribly frightening experience for him and his classmates.”

In a bid to deal with the back-to-school period and helped by an asthma nurse, she developed a personalised plan for both boys. 

“Neither has been hospitalised since.”

For more on the Asthma Friendly Schools Award visit www.asthma.ie/what-we-do/health-promotion/schools-programme; to access the back-to-school checklist go to www.asthma.ie/document-bank/back-school-with-asthma-checklist-for-parents 

TOP TIPS

* Take child to family doctor for asthma review. As part of this, get an asthma action plan, which is individualised for your child’s asthma.

* Tell teacher your child has asthma. Encourage school to participate in Asthma Friendly School programme.

* Ensure access to medication at all times, especially reliever inhaler – this should not be locked away in principal’s office.

* Contact Asthma Society of Ireland’s free line: 1800- 445464.


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