Asthma attacks in children could spike to unprecedented levels when schools re-open because of ongoing disruption to basic asthma care caused by Covid-19, the UK’s leading respiratory charity is warning.
Asthma UK is calling on parents of children with asthma to contact their child’s GP surgery now to organise an annual asthma review if it has been cancelled or delayed, as this will help to make sure their condition is well controlled, and cut the risk of a potentially-life threatening asthma attack.
The charity estimates that up to 133,800 children in England could have missed out on their annual asthma review, which GPs were permitted to suspend for three months to free up capacity in general practice in response to the pandemic1.
An annual asthma review, where a child’s inhaler technique is checked and they are provided with an up to date asthma action plan, is essential in keeping children with asthma well and out of hospital and can be carried out remotely.
September is typically the month in which the number of children with asthma admitted to hospitals rises. In 2017, there was a 238% increase in children in hospital admissions in September, when children returned to school, compared to the previous month.2
Children are more at risk of asthma attacks when they go back to school after the summer holidays because of seasonal allergies and exposure to cleaning products which can all be triggers for asthma. In normal years they would also be exposed to common colds and viruses, which are also asthma triggers.3 It is unclear at this point what impact the measures schools have put in place will have to stop children’s exposure to common viruses and bacteria.
In the long summer break, some parents and children get out of the routine of taking their preventer medicine, so children's airways can be more sensitive to triggers when they go back to school. Preventer medicine builds up over time and helps calm the underlying inflammation in a child’s lungs, so if they do catch a common virus, their asthma is less likely to be triggered.
An Asthma UK survey found that 71% of children with asthma had not returned to the classroom since schools were closed at the end of March, meaning potentially an even longer disruption to their routine asthma care.4
The charity is urging parents of children with asthma to act now to get into a good routine with their preventer medication before they return.
Becky Strafford’s daughter Millie, 11, who has asthma and eczema, is due to start secondary school next month after shielding for several months.
Millie’s asthma is mainly triggered by getting colds and viruses or exposure to cleaning products. Her annual asthma review was cancelled in March.
Becky says: “Millie has been shielding so didn’t go back to school with her classmates in June. I’m concerned as a parent about her suddenly being exposed to triggers, but I want her to return to school in September because she’s missed out on so much as it is. It’s not just the schoolwork but the social side of things too.
“Before Millie heads up to secondary school, I’ve been encouraging her to take her preventer inhaler regularly and I will be rebooking her cancelled annual asthma review. The last thing she needs is a back to school asthma attack.”
Emma Rubach, Head of Health Advice at Asthma UK, said: “Unless parents act now, asthma attacks could rise to unprecedented levels when children go back to school.
“Children have already missed a lot of school because of the pandemic so it’s vital that parents ensure they are prepared for their return to the classroom by making sure they take their preventer medicine every day. If their routine has slipped, it’s time to urgently get back to it – to avoid a hospital admission when term starts.
“The NHS is open for business and if your child’s annual asthma review has been cancelled then it’s important that you contact your GP surgery to reschedule it.”
Notes to editor:
1. According to QoF data for GPs in England 219,000 asthma reviews in England are conducted each month. Asthma UK estimates around 20 per cent (44,600) of these reviews are for children https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/quality-and-outcomes-framework-achievement-prevalence-and-exceptions-data/2019-20
2. Data via bespoke data request from NHS Digital. Emergency admissions for August 2017 and September 2017, ages 5-14. 574 children aged 5-14 were admitted to hospital for their asthma in August 2017, while 1942 were admitted in September – a 238% increase.
3. For more information and advice, please go to: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/child/back-to-school/
4. Asthma UK conducted an online survey between 10th July and 15th July. It gained 7264 responses in England. 1107 answered the question on whether their child had returned to school, with 784 saying no.
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Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and, ultimately, cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. We are entirely funded by voluntary donations. For further information, please visit: asthma.org.uk.