McMaster researcher explains fall asthma spike among children

Did your child experience a nasty asthma flare-up this fall? If so, you are not alone, according to a researcher at McMaster University.
Did your child struggle with asthma symptoms this fall? A McMaster researcher tells CBC Hamilton about how parents can prepare for next year. (iStockphoto)

Did your child experience a nasty asthma flare-up this fall?

If so, you are not alone, according to a researcher at McMaster University.

"It's after the return of school, generally, that children that will experience an exacerbation of their symptoms and need to visit a doctor or the hospital," said Susan Waserman, a clinical immunologist.

"It may be as many as 25 per cent of kids with asthma."

Susan Waserman is a clinicial immunologist at McMaster University. (Handout)

Asthma hospitalizations in Canada peak around two-and-a-half weeks after Labour Day, she said.

Why is this the case?

Waserman said parents often allow the children a break from their asthma drugs during the summer. This leaves the youngsters vulnerable when they return to school, where germs pass easily from child to child.

"Many of them in the summer take a holiday from their drugs, so children often come into school without the proper medication on board."

September, Waserman noted, is also peak cold season, which tapers off as fall progresses.

December represents the end of the spike in asthma episodes, she added. Viruses that are more prevalent during the winter "are not as prone to flaring up asthma."

In the mid-2000s, Waserman was involved with a study by Hamilton's Firestone Clinic for Respiratory Health that examined the effects of starting children on a regimen of montelukast, an asthma drug, around the end of August.

"Those who received the drug had a 75 per cent reduction in flare-ups," Waserman said, adding the treatment was beneficial for children who were already being treated with steroidal puffers.

Be prepared

So what can you do to help ensure your kids breathe easier next year?

"What I recommend is for parents to keep in touch with their physician and that they medicate appropriately with the doctor's instructions," Waserman said.

"If they are asthmatic, kids should be prepared with proper medication before going to back school."

And telling them to wash their hands wouldn't hurt, either.