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Sending kids with asthma to school? Here's what you need to know

Blog post | 28 Jan 2020

Sending kids back to school after the long summer break can feel like a blessed relief. But if your child has asthma, you might also be a bit nervous, especially since bushfire smoke has been blanketing parts of Australia, causing a spike in presentations to hospital emergency departments.

Even without bushfire smoke, there is always a surge in hospital visits due to asthma and flare-ups in children after the summer holidays. The National Asthma Council estimates that each year, up to 1 in 4 of these hospital admissions occurs in February.

This, in part, is because in the classroom children are closer than usual to other children, who may share their cold and flu nasties. There may also be triggers for asthma attacks, such as mould or dust; children may not have been using their preventers during the summer holidays; and then there is the general stress of returning to school routines.

So what can you do to keep your little ones healthy when they head back through the school gates? Here are some tips for keeping on top of things when they are out of your care.

Prevention is best

Always administer a preventer in the morning. Because preventers can take days or even weeks to work, they do not provide relief from an asthma attack, but help to prevent attacks from happening. Preventers should be used daily, not just when the air quality is very bad, or when your child is experiencing asthma symptoms.

Preventers function by reducing inflammation in the airways, which in turn makes them less sensitive, reducing the occurrence of asthma attacks. A prescription is required for preventers.

Have a plan

During 2017–18 it was estimated that 1 in 3 children under 14 years of age did not have a written asthma action plan. Developing an asthma action plan with your child’s doctor is important. Make sure your child’s teacher is familiar with your child’s asthma management plan and knows what to do if they start to show symptoms of an attack. To keep your plan up to date, check it every year with your child’s doctor in case their needs have changed.

Pack your puffer

Ventolin inhalers or relievers are essential for people with asthma and should be on hand even if they aren’t experiencing symptoms. They start to work within minutes, relaxing the muscles around the airways to open them up, and they can be effective for up to 4 hours. Most relievers are available over the counter in pharmacies.

Use a spacer

Spacers are devices that can be attached to a Ventolin inhaler to help deliver medication more accurately. Using an inhaler directly by mouth, can cause a proportion of the medication to end up in the mouth or throat, especially in the case of children. Spacers provide more space between the inhaler and the mouth, and make it easier to breathe in at the right time to inhale the medication.

Give a care pack to the school office. Supply a puffer and a spacer to your school office so that they are prepared in case your child does have an asthma attack.

Learn the triggers

Try to identify what causes your child’s asthma to flare up and educate your child about what these triggers are. There are several common asthma triggers that you can look into, including exercise, mould, dust, air quality, extreme weather, colds and flu, pollen, and cigarette and bushfire smoke. If their asthma is triggered by exercise, make sure they take their puffer with them to sport.

Teach the technique

Inhaling Ventolin can be tricky for kids because it feels unnatural and it can be hard for them to coordinate pressing their inhaler and breathing at the right time. Using a spacer will help, but if there isn’t one available, they need to know how to inhale their medication both from their reliever and a spacer.

Watch this video by Asthma Australia for guidance on how to administer Ventolin to children. Younger children may need to use a spacer with a facemask. Older children may want to switch to a spacer with a mouthpiece

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