Health Tips for Asthmatic Schoolchildren

Healthnotes Newswire (September 27, 2007)—A reminder to parents and caregivers: children with asthma need extra preparation and protection as they return to school. The American Thoracic Society recently issued an Asthma Alert to remind parents to take steps to avoid an increase in asthma problems this fall.

The fall is a particularly hard time of year for asthmatic kids. In addition to the high load of environmental allergens, such as ragweed, molds, and dust, there is a sudden rise in exposure to respiratory viruses from schoolmates. While the common cold might mean nothing more than a runny nose and a mild cough for most children, these minor infections can seriously aggravate symptoms and trigger a more serious asthmatic episode.

The new alert was issued to help prevent the spike in asthma attacks, doctor visits, and hospitalizations that occur at this time of year. “Along with buying back-to-school supplies and filling out school forms, parents of children with asthma should have an asthma care checklist,” said Lynn B. Gerald, PhD, MSPH, associate professor and assistant director of the lung health center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and a co-chair of the American Thoracic Society’s 2007 statement on Issues Related to Screening for Asthma in Children.

Proactive anti-asthma steps:

• Make sure your child is taking his or her asthma control medications prior to returning to school. It’s easy to lapse in the summer when asthma is typically quiet, but it is important to take the medications regularly when problems are more likely to occur.

• In addition to having rescue medication at school in case of an attack, have a customized plan for managing asthma episodes. This asthma action plan should be written with your physician and include instructions about how to use daily medications, emergency medications, and a peak flow meter to monitor breathing capacity. The plan will also help you know when to seek emergency medical care.

• Before school begins, schedule a meeting with your child’s new teacher to talk about possible triggers and irritants in the classroom and other areas of the school where your child will be.

• Give your child a refresher course in hand-washing—a simple, effective measure to reduce the spread of infections. Show your child how to lather the soap and scrub all hand surfaces—front, back, between fingers, and under fingernails—for a full 20 seconds before rinsing (about the time it takes to sing the ABC song all the way through).

In addition, parents may want to take measures to strengthen their child’s immune system and have natural medicines on hand to treat colds quickly. Vitamin C can shorten the course of a cold, and herbs such as andrographis, wild indigo, mullein, and licorice are often used to relieve symptoms, stimulate immune function, and fight viruses and bacteria. Note that echinacea has not been found to be help children fight colds.

Supplements can also play a more direct role in asthma management. Fish oil and boswellia may reduce inflammation in the airways, and magnesium and hyssop may prevent airway spasms. Working with a doctor familiar with herbal and nutritional medicine may further bolster your child and contribute to a safe, healthy autumn.

(American Thoracic Society, accessed September 2007:

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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