COLORADO SPRINGS — With September in full swing, and dry air and allergies in abundance, there’s an annual spike in asthma especially for kids.
Trish Eells is a pulmonary medicine nurse practitioner at Children's Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs. Trish says, “We tend to see the highest spike in asthma exacerbation in September that coincides with kids going back to school. We also see about 25% of the hospitalizations that occur each year in September.”
Trish also says the common terms used to describe asthma events are changing in an effort to promote a more proactive approach to treating asthma. For example, “asthma attack” is a term that is going by the wayside. “Exacerbation is (the term) we typically use, or an asthma flair. The reason for that is that people tend to associate the word attack with something really big and scary that requires an emergency room intervention. We want them intervening much sooner than that in hopes of avoiding the progression.”
Trish also says the September epidemic of asthma issues has many contributing factors. “We think primarily kids and parents might have a tendency to get off track with her asthma plans during the summer, just for lack of structure and schedule. We also know that when kids get back in the classroom, they're exposed to a variety of triggers that can include viral illnesses and exposure to allergens that peak in the fall.”
Asthma can develop in children at any age and there are specific warning signs to look for would indicate that your child may be developing asthma. “Warning signs that a child may have asthma could include things like coughing, wheezing, difficulty catching their breath with activities, feeling fatigued and sometimes we will hear children coughing at night. They may tend to get sick with viral illnesses, and stay sicker longer than other members of the family and not be able to shake that nagging cough.”
Those warning signs can be accompanied by certain behaviors from kids says Trish. “When a child is in the midst of an asthma exacerbation, they may have some coughing, some wheezing, they may complain of chest tightness and difficulty breathing. You may see them working harder to breathe using some of the muscles in their chest and throat, sometimes you may even see their nostrils flaring a bit.”
An asthma exacerbation can quickly escalate to the point when immediate medical attention is required. Trish says the signs to look for are, “Any child that has difficulty speaking, or color changes (in their skin), those children warrant an immediate evaluation in an urgent care or emergency room setting.”
There are several common environmental triggers that can trigger an asthma event but how each child responds to those triggers varies widely. “There are asthma triggers that occur in the environment that can make asthma worse. Triggers differ for every child and so each child is unique in terms of what may make their asthma flare. Common triggers would be things like illnesses such as cold or flu, exposure to irritants like tobacco or marijuana smoke, smoke from vaping devices, or exposure to allergens and even weather changes or emotional changes can make asthma flare.”
As frightening and dangerous as asthma can be for kids and adults, medication and treatment have come a long way in the last several years. Trish says, “What I wish all parents and
children knew about asthma is that it can be managed effectively, and it can be very well controlled. When asthma is well controlled, children can run and play and take part in all of the activities they enjoy for as long as they like to. What I would emphasize also, is the importance of maintaining that strong partnership with the child's medical team, school personnel and community agencies that can provide support as well. It's really important that each child has an asthma plan for home and for school, like a game plan a sports team might have that outlines for the child and the parent, what to do to maintain control of their asthma. Parents should feel very free to partner with their healthcare providers, school nurses, teachers, and making sure that plan is available for everybody who comes in contact with their child.”
If you have any questions, follow up with your health provider or the folks at Children's Hospital Colorado.