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Asthma Flare-ups in Kids: How to Prevent Them


For kids who have asthma, fall means more than greeting a new school year: It’s also the time of year they are most likely to experience asthma flare-ups. Here are some tips on how to prevent these episodes.

Fall brings lots of allergens for asthma sufferers

Autumn is an especially difficult time of year for kids with asthma, for several reasons. The level of outdoor airborne allergens (e.g., pollen, mold) is high, for example, and as the weather gets colder, they tend to stay indoors more, where they can be exposed to a greater concentration of indoor allergens, such as pet dander, household chemicals, dust, and smoke.

Fall also is the beginning of the cold and flu season, and children with asthma are at risk for serious complications if they contract the flu. Robert Wood, MD, director of Allergy & Immunology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center explains that “year after year, we see a predictable spike in patient visits for asthma exacerbations in fall and winter, but many of these visits could be easily avoided with simple prevention.”

First on the simple prevention list is a flu shot, which is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all children ages 6 months and older. A flu shot is particularly important for kids with asthma, because they are more likely to be hospitalized if they get the flu than are children without asthma. The shot also can minimize complications if they do get the flu.

Another preventive step is to avoid exposure to the things that trigger an asthma attack. Obviously this can be a challenge, but parents can do simple things like make sure the home environment is as clean as possible (e.g., vacuum with HEPA filters, change filters in the furnace, use air cleaners in the home, avoid use of household chemicals) and limit activities outdoors on days when pollen counts are high.

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A recent study explored the impact of free-standing air cleaners in the homes children ages 6 to 15 who had at least one caregiver who smoked. Researchers found that particulate matter—smoke, soil, pollen, dust, mold spores—was nearly 50% less in homes with air cleaners, and that the children in those homes had significantly fewer days without asthma symptoms than did kids living in homes without air cleaners.

Yet a third preventive measure for kids with asthma is for them to use their controller medications regularly. Children with persistent asthma can benefit from consistent use of drugs that suppress airway inflammation and thus prevent attacks.

Elizabeth Matsui, MD, MPH, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Hopkins Children’s, explained that while many kids experience fewer symptoms of asthma during the summer and so they reduce their use of controller medications, “most kids’ symptoms will return with the change of season so reverting to their regular drug regimens is critical.”

Parents can help prevent fall asthma flare-ups in their kids if they adopt a few simple measures. Fewer asthma episodes can mean a more enjoyable school year and holiday season for kids and their families.

Butz A et al. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2011; 165(8): 741-48
Johns Hopkins Children’s Center

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons