Childhood asthma attacks are about to spike, and one in nine Australian children have the chronic condition.
A quarter of all yearly hospitalisations for childhood asthma happen during February, as the school term begins.
ACM spoke to Dr Louisa Owens, paediatric respiratory physician and National Asthma Council Australia Guidelines Committee member, about how to help children breathe easy going back to school.
What are the triggers?
The "strict routines" of asthma treatment tend to relax during the summer holidays, so children re-entering the school environment have lower defences, Dr Owens said.
"You're going to notice a change in asthma control after a six week break," she said.
Dr Owens said close contact with other children, in the classroom and school yard, will likely lead to a spike in respiratory illness.
"And going back into a dusty classroom doesn't help," she said.
Classroom windows have been closed and dust has built up over the Christmas break, making the new term a dangerous time for asthma sufferers at school, she said.
Why should parents be aware?
A survey of Australian children, aged 0-14, said eight per cent of girls and 12 per cent of boys report having an asthma diagnosis.
Knowing the signs of asthma is key for parents. Children may not articulate when they start to feel breathless or tired, Dr Owens said.
"It's not until symptoms become more severe that parents might pick up on it," the paediatrician said.
Children, scared by their initial experiences with asthma, can be reluctant to notify parents when breathing becomes harder, she said.
"Sometimes children are scared to say they're having an asthma attack because they're worried about going back to hospital," she said.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Reassure children that using the preventer makes a visit to the hospital less likely, and that seeing a doctor can help, Dr Owens said.
"Talk to your child about breathing and the feeling in their chest," she said.
What are some warning signs?
Concerned parents should listen for whistling and wheezing sounds when their children breathe, Dr Owens said.
"Particularly after exercise or while they sick with a virus," she said.
Parents with a family history of asthma and allergies should be alert for any sounds that indicate a shortness of breath, the paediatrician said.
What can parents do to help?
Make sure asthma preventers are used as they're prescribed, Dr Owens said.
And if the summer holidays saw a dip in preventer use, "get back into the routine again," she said.
"Children should be seeing their GP a couple of times a year, to make sure their asthma is well controlled," she said.
Asthma is a chronic condition and requires regular GP check-ups and adherence to a prescribed plan.
"You shouldn't only see your GP when it flares up," Dr Owens said.
School should have an up-to-date asthma action plan detailing the medication and dose a child should take if they experience symptoms at school, she said.
"Each school has different rules, so check that your child knows what to do," the paediatrician said.
Ensure pre-school, after-school carers, babysitters and grandparents have medication and dosage information as well.
Parents should talk to children, particularly smaller kids, about what to do if they need asthma relief, Dr Owens said.
"Make sure they know to put their hand up, talk to a teacher or go to the school office."
Parents can find detailed advice through the National Asthma Council Australia website.