Figures show a 174% increase in hospital admissions in September, when children return to school compared to the previous month, the charity found. They are now urging parents of children with asthma to be on high alert to spot the warning signs before an asthma attack strikes.
The charity explained that children are at a greater risk of having a potentially fatal asthma attack when they go back to school because of the lack of routine over the holidays, which means parents might not always remember to give their child their preventer medicine.
This is particularly important because the medicine builds up over time, helping to protect the airways. Forgetting to take preventer medicine can leave children exposed to having asthma attacks triggered by cold and flu viruses.
“Going back to school should be an exciting time for children, but many could end up in hospital fighting for life after an asthma attack,” said Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma UK. “This is extremely distressing for a child and their parent. It could be avoided if parents know how to spot their child’s asthma is getting worse and know what to do if their child is having an asthma attack.
“Parents should not feel afraid to book an urgent appointment with the GP or asthma nurse if their child is using their reliever inhaler (usually blue) three or more times a week, coughing or wheezing at night or feeling out of breath and struggling to keep up with their friends.”
I want to urge other parents to get support and advice, especially at this time of the year when children are at more risk of an asthma attack."
Dad whose son has asthma
Rich Cook, 40, a local government officer from Cwmbran, South Wales, knows first-hand how going back to school can increase a child’s chance of having an asthma attack. His son Harry, was hospitalised after he had an asthma attack last September when he was five-years-old.
“It was terrifying to receive a call from my son’s school to say he was having an asthma attack,” he said. “Teachers had tried to give him his reliever inhaler, but it had gone past the point of helping and he was rushed straight to hospital. No parent ever wants to see their child in intensive care saying to them: ‘Daddy, am I going to die?’”
Cook said Harry’s asthma attack came on suddenly as when he was dropped off at school, he seemed fine. “The next time I saw him he was in hospital fighting for his life,” the dad said. “I want to urge other parents to get support and advice, especially at this time of the year when children are at more risk of an asthma attack. It could be a case of life and death.”
Advice for parents
The charity has shared advice for parents on what to do if they think their child’s asthma is getting worse and signs to look out for.
Warning signs your child’s asthma is getting worse:
:: Puffing on their reliever inhaler (usually blue) three or more times a week.
:: Coughing and/or wheezing at night or in the early mornings.
:: Breathlessness – if they’re pausing for breath when talking or struggling to keep up with friends.
:: They might say their tummy or chest hurts.
What to do if your child’s symptoms are getting worse:
:: Give two to four puffs of their reliever inhaler, through a spacer. Space the puffs out so there are 30-60 seconds between them. If their symptoms don’t get better or if their reliever inhaler isn’t lasting four hours, follow asthma attack advice below.
:: Make a same-day appointment with your child’s GP.
:: If the surgery is closed, call 111 for advice.
:: If you have any questions, call Asthma UK nurses for advice (details below).
What to do if your child’s symptoms are getting worse quickly:
:: Call 999. While you wait for the ambulance, help them sit up and give a puff of their reliever inhaler every 30-60 seconds - you can give them up to 10 puffs.
:: You can repeat the above step every 15 minutes while you are waiting for the ambulance.
For further information:
-> Visit Asthma UK’s ‘back to school’ section or call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon – Fri from 9am – 5pm) to speak to an asthma nurse.
-> Parents can also speak to asthma nurses by calling 0300 222 5800 or by messaging 07378 606 728 on WhatsApp.
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