By Andrew MacGinnitie, MD, PhD, associate clinical director of the Division of Immunology at Children’s Hospital Boston
The onset of fall means shorter days, the closing of summer camps and, this year, a less-than-triumphant winding down of the Red Sox’s season. It’s also back-to-school time for thousands of families. For most people this means stocking up on new clothes and school supplies, but for families of children with asthma, September also marks the start of the fall asthma epidemic. Each year the number of children with asthma rushed to emergency departments and admitted to hospitals spikes a few weeks after school starts.
So what’s causing this annual epidemic? Most often it’s the sharing of viral infections—rhinovirus in particular—that spread much more easily when children are cooped up together in classrooms. Typically rhinovirus will cause common cold symptoms, but in children with asthma, infection can spread to the lungs and trigger a severe asthma attack. Kids also tend to spend more time outside in the summer, and sunlight acts as a natural disinfectant for many germs. …
Winter usually ushers in plenty of exciting outdoor activities for kids, like sledding and snowball fights. It’s a lot of fun, but the chilly air can be tough on kids with asthma.
“The cold, dry air of winter can really irritate a child’s asthma,” says Amy Burack, RN, MA, AE-C, program manager of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Community Asthma Programs, a division of the hospital’s Community Asthma Initiative (CAI).
And when asthma symptoms flair, it leads to more than discomfort. For many children, it can lead to a trip to the Emergency Department or worse, hospitalization. Asthma continues to be the leading admitting diagnosis at Children’s Hospital Boston.
To counteract those numbers Burack and her colleagues at the CAI have worked hard with families in local communities to help educate people about how to better manage their kids’ asthma. In five years the Initiative has successfully contributed to cost savings by reducing Emergency Department visits and hospitalizations and improved quality of life through a reduction in lost school days for children and missed work days for caregivers.
Just because your child suffers from asthma doesn’t mean he or she can’t enjoy running, swimming and other outdoor play made possible by the long, bright days of summer! In fact, when done properly physical activity can improve the strength and efficiency of their heart and lungs, as well as their attitude, self-esteem and confidence.
The Healthy Family Fun website, a project of Children’s Hospital Boston and Kohl’s Department Stores providing families with information on how to eat better and get more exercise on a budget, just released some helpful tips on how to get your asthma sufferer off the couch and on the playground. Written by Amy Burack, RN, MA, AE-C and Community Asthma Programs Manager at Children’s, the tips provide practical advice for parents about where, when and how their child with asthma should play outside this summer. It also touches on the importance of an asthma management plan, and how parents can easily create one with the help of their child’s pediatrician.