Does your asthma or your child’s asthma always seem to get worse in September? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, researchers have studied this issue. Here is what they found.
September is a difficult time for those with asthma
- There is a September asthma hospitalization “epidemic.” Many more people are hospitalized for asthma shortly after school starts than at any other time of the year. The number of asthma hospitalizations peak first for school-age children, then preschool children, then adults.
- People who are hospitalized for asthma often have a viral infection. Serious asthma flares are often (but not always) associated with respiratory tract infections, especially rhinovirus. Rhinovirus is the main cause of the common cold.
- Kids tend to get sick when they go back to school. Crowded school classrooms are hotbeds of germs and “cold season” peaks in the fall. Kids catch colds at school, get ill and then expose their parents and younger siblings to the illness. In contrast, “flu season” can occur later in the fall or winter. These infections then set off serious asthma flares for some people. While there is no vaccine currently available for the common cold, vaccination against the flu is available. Everyone, including family members, should get a flu shot each year, if possible.
- Kids are exposed to lots of allergens when they go back to school. Children are often exposed to mold, pests, pollens and cat allergens on their classmates’ clothing, and more. All of these can be triggers for some people with asthma. Children’s clothes or belongings can then carry these allergens, like cat hair, from school to home. And then the allergens may bother other family members with asthma or allergies!
If you have asthma, take steps to avoid September flare-ups
Here are some things that can help:
- Have an Asthma Action Plan. This is a written plan that provides information and instructions on how you can manage your asthma. This will tell you what to do each day to treat your asthma. This includes how to track your symptoms, how to know when your symptoms are getting worse, what to do in an emergency and more. If you do not have one, download an Asthma Action Plan, take it to your doctor and have them fill it out for you.
- Know your asthma triggers. If you know what triggers your asthma, you can try to take steps to avoid these things. If your asthma flares up during exercise, you probably do not have to avoid exercise. Instead, talk to your doctor about taking medication before you exercise, to prevent problems from occurring.
- Stay on asthma medicines throughout the summer. Asthma is a chronic disease. Management often requires taking prescription medicines every day, even when you are feeling fine. Ask your asthma specialist if you should take medicine throughout the summer to control your asthma.
In one study that looked at a group of school-aged children who had asthma, many of the children got a cold during the back-to-school season. However, those who had been taking prescription long-term asthma control medicine were less likely to have a serious asthma flare then those who had not.
- If you got off your medicine routine, get back on schedule. Don’t wait until you’re experiencing symptoms.
- Take common steps to avoid illness. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Teach children to sneeze into their sleeve rather than on their hands. Eat nutritious meals. Get plenty of sleep. Try to isolate sick family members from others in the house.
Asthma is the number one reason children miss time from school, so staying healthy means more time in school. For parents, staying healthy means less time spent missing work or using sick days to take care of family members. It’s not too late to get everyone off to a healthier start this school year!
Johnston, N., et al. (2005). The September epidemic of asthma exacerbations in children: A search for etiology. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Sears, Malcolm R. (2008). Epidemiology of asthma exacerbations. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Medical Review September 2016.