Just as millions of children head back to school every autumn, hospitals are always bustling with emergency room and inpatient visits at the same time. October is one of the busiest months of the year in regards to severe asthma attacks. There are several factors that contribute to this yearly phenomenon, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.
As anyone with asthma can tell you, their symptoms are typically occur on an irregular basis, and are triggered by exposure to specific things. Most children with asthma do great during the warm summer months when the weather is nice and they’re not battling colds or other types of infections. However, this may promote a false sense of security as asthma control can deteriorate very rapidly during the autumn.
Asthma management relies on following a daily treatment plan, which may entail taking different controller medications. Autumn is the perfect time of year to review your child’s asthma treatment plan with their physician. While a daily well plan is important, it really helps to know what to do when symptoms occur. Part of this entails knowing and avoiding one’s asthma triggers.
These are the most common triggers that cause asthma symptoms in the autumn:
Upper respiratory infections – this is the most common trigger and kids start to swap germs their first day back in the classroom. It’s tough to avoid getting sick, so having a good asthma action plan and taking daily medications (if prescribed) is important. Good hand washing and limiting contact with anyone who is acutely ill are both key this time of year. In addition, the influenza vaccine is recommended for anyone with asthma and must be renewed every autumn.
Changes in the weather – rapid changes in temperature and precipitation are very frequent this time of the year and can trigger asthma symptoms. Keeping an eye on the forecast and limiting outdoor activities during these times can help.
Autumn allergies – ragweed causes symptoms from mid-August until the first good frost. Mold spores become an issue during damp/rainy weather and especially when leaves start to accumulate on the ground. Make indoors a safe zone by keeping windows in the home and car closed at all times and changing clothing and washing face/hair after being outdoors. It is also important to maintain any allergy medications if they have been prescribed.
Indoor allergies – once the weather turns colder and furnaces start up, levels of indoor allergens such as dust mites and pet dander rise. Exposure can be reduced with efforts focused in the bedroom. Dust mite proof encasements for pillows and mattresses are available. Dust mites will still accumulate, so removing all stuffed toys from the bed and washing all bed linens in hot water weekly can help. Completely restricting any pets from the bedroom is paramount. It can help to vacuum/dust several times a week and wash the animals twice a week as well.
Strong irritants – bonfires, fire pits, scented candles, cigarette smoke, and any type of aerosol spray all release chemicals into the air that can irritate the airways of someone with asthma. If you can smell it, it can bother you!
Indoor heating – fireplaces, wood burning stoves, and kerosene heaters can also release chemicals into the air that can trigger asthma.
As with any chronic disease, knowledge and preparation are important to achieving the best possible outcome. As always, a good discussion with your child’s physician is recommended!
David Stukus, MD, is an associate professor of pediatrics in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dave, as his patients call him, is passionate about increasing awareness for allergies and asthma.
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