By Corey Binns, September 2010
When your kids hop back on the school bus this year, they could be headed for an asthma attack. School can worsen a child’s asthma symptoms, thanks to seasonal allergens, the close confines of a classroom, and exposure to germs and allergens carried by other kids.
Asthma is the No. 1 cause of school absenteeism among children, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and accounts for more than 14 million total missed days of school. That’s approximately eight days for each student with asthma. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that the illness sends more children to the hospital than any other childhood disease. Some research has also demonstrated that asthma-related visits to the emergency room peak 17 days after Labor Day.
“For so many parents, it’s confusing because so much has changed since they were kids and had asthma,” said Dr. Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, who treats allergy immunology and pediatric allergy at her private practice in Gaithersburg, Md. “What so many people think about asthma is that you have to react to it, instead of preventing it.”
Here’s Eghrari-Sabet’s advice on how to keep your child’s asthma under control on campus:
If your child’s an asthmatic or you suspect your child is, ask your pediatrician to test for the illness during a back-to-school checkup. Eghrari-Sabet recommends children take a pulmonary function test to measure their breathing.
“Controller medications are like toothpaste,” said Eghrari-Sabet, regarding the drugs often prescribed to be taken twice a day on a long-term basis. These include inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting bronchodilators.
“If you only brush your teeth or take your asthma med when you feel you need it, you’ll end up getting a cavity or an asthma attack.” Children should take their controller medication regularly — such as before bed and when they wake up. “So many kids stop taking their maintenance medications over the summer, so their tank is on empty.” If they take it every day, she said, they won’t need to rely on a rescue medication.
Albuterol and other rescue medications should be used more sparingly than controller medications and inhaled only as needed. “They’re meant to be taken just to rescue you,” said Eghrari-Sabet. “If you need to be rescued every day, you’re taking the wrong medicine.”
For most children with asthma, allergies can inflame their lung airways and trigger an attack. More than 2.5 million children under age 18 suffer from allergic asthma, according to the AAFA. The top three allergens children will likely encounter when they head back to school are ragweed, dust mites and mold. About 20 percent of Americans are allergic to ragweed, according to the AAFA.
“Of course, we don’t want to keep our kids hidden away,” said Eghrari-Sabet. “There are definitive way for kids to get tested to find out exactly what they’re allergic to.” At the pediatrician’s office, your child can receive a RAST test, which scores each of their potential allergies on a scale of one to 10. For more specific results, Eghrari-Sabet recommends requesting pharmaceutical company Phadia’s ImmunoCAP test.
Once you and your child’s doctors learn the allergic triggers, your child can be immunized with allergy shots. It’s good to take care of allergy shots early on, said Eghrari-Sabet, as immunization favors youth. “Allergy shots ‘stick’ in younger kids best,” she said.
When kids first rush back into school hallways, they carry with them — and pass along — a host of germs. Sick children are more likely to suffer from asthma attacks. Respiratory infections, such as colds, the flu, sore throats and sinus infections, are the No. 1 asthma trigger in children, according to the AAFA.
You can protect your child from some respiratory infections by making sure he’s vaccinated with this year’s flu shot, said Eghrari-Sabet. And rest assured, the swine flu will already be included in the shot.
“If your kid is immunized, you’ve protected your own kid and probably protected his classmates,” she said.