According to the latest Australian Burden of Disease Study, asthma is the health condition having the greatest impact on school children aged 5-14 years. It represents 14.2% of the total disease burden for boys and 11.7% for girls. It is also a key reason for missing school due to chronic illness. If your child does suffer from asthma, do you have an asthma plan in place as we head back to school?
Asthma Australia Medical Director John Blakey says coming back after a long summer break is a high-risk time for kids with asthma, facing an often preventable visit to the hospital with breathing difficulty.
“Holidays mean a more relaxed approach to usual routines at home, and that can include taking asthma preventers less frequently. This puts kids at risk of serious attacks when they encounter triggers,” says Dr John Blakey.
“Coming back to school and into the classroom inevitably means a spread of respiratory viruses. These viruses are the leading cause of serious asthma attacks in children. If kids haven’t been taking their preventer regularly during the break, they will be more likely to get sick.”
The prevalence of asthma in children in Australia is among the highest of the world, yet 44% of children aged 0-14 did not have a written Asthma Action Plan in place in 2017-18.
What is an Asthma Plan?
Asthma Australia says a written Asthma Action Plan and a conversation with their asthma support team on 1800 ASTHMA can help parents get their kids breathing with more ease for the start of the 2023 school year.
“Asthma Action Plans are proven to work and can be extremely helpful, especially to prevent worsening of symptoms or a visit to the hospital,” Senior Manager of Asthma Australia, Anthony Flynn, said.
“Asthma Australia has updated its School Health Check Guidelines and fact sheets for school staff to help create a safer environment for children. It’s important that school staff are informed and up to date, and parents should ensure their child’s written Asthma Action Plan is ready for the return to school,” he said.
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Four-year-old Max’s story
Nobody knows the importance of having an action plan more than Janet, mother to four-year-old Max.
“Max had a fairly standard cold, with the sniffles and a cough. He seemed to improve after four days or so, apart from a mild cough. However, one afternoon, the coughing became more frequent and Max started becoming distressed. He couldn’t finish his sentences without taking more breaths than normal.
Despite rest and calming cuddles, Max’s breathing did not improve & Janet was getting worried, so she took him to the local Emergency Department.
“He was quickly assessed and diagnosed with viral-induced wheeze and given a bronchodilator (Ventolin) and oral steroids. We stayed in hospital with him most of the night until he was stabilised and could go home.”
“We had a GP appointment a few days later, where we learned that although that he had suffered viral-induced wheeze. It was possible he may go on to develop asthma (his dad had childhood asthma). But at that point we weren’t aware that we should be having GP regular reviews regarding his wheeze/asthma.
Max ended up the the Emergency Department again 6 months later – which Janet says could have been avoided if they had regular GP reviews and an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan.
“Both our visits to the ED were in summer. So we now make sure that at the start of the school year, we check in with our GP to review Max’s Asthma Action Plan and get new scripts for his preventer medication. We also check the ‘Best Before’ dates on Max’s Ventolin for school and after-school care. And make sure copies of his latest Asthma Action Plan are available to all his carers.”
Asthma has a significant impact on Australian children:
- More than 460,000 Australians under the age of 15 had asthma in 2017-18 (10.1%).
- Of these, over 17,000 were hospitalised for asthma, and 44% did NOT have a written Asthma Action Plan.
- 2018-2019 asthma cost GP (general practitioners) services $148.4 million and cost Public Hospital Emergency Departments $80.9 million.
- 42% of Australians aged 0-14 had to take time off school in 2014/15 due to their asthma.
- More boys than girls aged 0-14 are hospitalised for asthma.
- Of the 39,000 asthma hospitalisations, on average every year, between 2016-17 and 2018-19, more than 40% were in children aged 0-14.
- Among school-aged children, most of these are thought to be preventable through appropriate management and care in the school and primary health settings.
For medical advice on how to best treat and manage their child’s asthma, parents should speak to their family doctor.
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