With kids about to return to school, the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ is calling for preventive action to reduce the annual spike in asthma hospitalisations.
Teresa Demetriou, a nurse and the foundation's education and research general manager, says asthma attacks are particularly common in children returning to school, especially following the long summer holiday. She says studies have shown that viral infections are likely to be the main cause in the spike. Other causes include less strict asthma management over the holidays, a change in environment with greater exposure to allergens, and a change in emotions such as stress and anxiety.
“The best thing to do is be as prepared as possible,” she says.
Demetriou and the foundation are urging parents and others to take preventative measures.
“Asthma action plans need to be provided to schools, along with updated emergency contact details. Children need to be taking their preventer medication as prescribed if they have one, and bring their reliever inhaler to school," she says.
“Make sure your child knows what their triggers are so they can do their best to avoid them. It’s important to reduce exposure to germs, which includes washing hands with soap as needed. We also highly recommend all families with asthma to get their flu vaccinations in March.”
In 2013 there were 3,730 hospitalisations in New Zealand for asthma in children under the age of 15 – some of them having potentially life-threatening attacks.
Māori and Pacific peoples are 2.9 and 3.7 times respectively more likely to be hospitalised with asthma than Europeans or other New Zealanders. People living in the most deprived areas are 3.2 times more likely to be hospitalised than those in the least deprived areas.
A free school asthma checklist is available for download at the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ website at asthmafoundation.org.nz.