A peak in ragweed and mold spores that comes with the onset of fall can aggravate symptoms in children with allergic asthma. So can the flu and other seasonal bugs in the autumn and winter months.
Avoiding triggers is important to prevent asthma attacks but so is the diligent use of controller medications, say experts from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
"Many patients feel a reduction of their asthma symptoms over the summer, so they may have cut down on their controller meds, but as fall approaches, for many of them symptoms will come back, so they should return to their regular drug regimens," says Arlene Butz, CPNP, Sc.D., pediatric nurse practitioner and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins.
Butz suggests the following fall/winter prevention tips for the parents of children with asthma:
· Children with persistent asthma - defined as having symptoms such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath two or more times per week - should get a flu shot.
· To reduce the risk of viral infections, all family members should wash their hands frequently. Pack an alcohol-based hand sanitizer while traveling.
· Use of daily controller medications is essential for those with moderate-to-severe asthma to prevent asthma attacks.
· Once an asthma attack is under way, rescue medications, such as albuterol, can be used to stop it from getting worse, but relying on such quick-relief medicines too often is not a good idea.
"Overuse of quick-relief medication is dangerous because you're treating the symptoms and not preventing them," Butz says. "To prevent asthma attacks, children need controller medication that treats the underlying inflammation of the airways that causes an asthma attack."
Asthma is the country's leading pediatric chronic illness, affecting 6.2 million children under 18 years, the majority of whom suffer from allergic asthma.