Leading charity Asthma UK has today released alarming new data showing a dramatic surge in children’s hospital admissions that coincides with their return to school.
In England, more children are rushed to hospital with an asthma attack in mid-September than any other week during the year. Over 4.6 times as many children in England were hospitalised because of their asthma in the third week of September 2011, compared with just six weeks previously when hospital admissions were at their lowest.
The September spike in children’s asthma hospital admissions occurs year after year in the UK and in many other countries, usually two to three weeks into the autumn term. Children aged six to seven years old are the most seriously affected.
Asthma UK is tackling this worrying trend by launching a campaign targeting parents. The charity believes parents can help prevent back-to-school asthma attacks by making sure children carry on taking their preventer inhalers twice daily during the summer holidays. Studies suggest that children who have been forgetting to take their medicines over the break will be at a higher risk of having a serious asthma attack when they are exposed to common classroom asthma triggers in September, such as colds, flu and stress.
Dr Samantha Walker, Deputy Chief Executive of Asthma UK, explains: “Normal routines can go out of the window during the summer break, which can effectively create a time-bomb for children with asthma. Those who forget to take their preventer inhalers over the summer will be less in control of their symptoms and therefore more vulnerable to asthma attacks come term-time.”
On average, two children in every classroom have asthma, making it the most common long-term condition for children in the UK. More than 25,000 children were hospitalised because of their asthma in 2011-12 , and eighteen children under 14 died as a result of an asthma attack in 2011. Children who have allergies on top of their asthma are thought to be particularly at risk.
According to Kate Jones, her son Jack’s asthma always tends to flare up in the last week of September, and the 15-year-old from the Wirral is usually hospitalised as a result. She says: “Jack’s been having attacks in September for as long as I can remember. He often gets them a few weeks after returning to school following the Easter holidays too.
“I can see how parents might become a bit lax with their child’s medication over the summer. It’s such a busy time, whether you’re going on holiday or just trying to arrange for family members to look after them while you’re at work. And that’s another issue; often your relatives or friends are not as aware of what medication your child should be taking and when.”
Asthma UK estimates that three quarters of asthma hospital admissions could be avoided with the right care and management. The charity is urging parents whose children have asthma to order a free ‘My Asthma’ pack, a child-friendly resource which helps under 12s develop a fun routine to manage their asthma over the summer, and as a result, reduce their risk of an attack in September.
Find out more about the ‘Teach Asthma a Lesson Next Term!’ campaign. Visit www.asthma.org.uk/backtoschool to order a My Asthma pack for your child.
 Data source: Hospital Episode Statistics (HES), Health and Social Care Information Centre . Data acquired July 2013. In 2011-12, 582 children were hospitalised for their asthma in week 26 (w/c 19th September) compared with 125 children in week 20 (w/c 8th August).
 Sears MR, Johnston NW. Understanding the September asthma epidemic. McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 10/2007; 120(3): 526-9
 Johnston NW, Johnston SL, Duncan JM, Greene JM, Kebadze T, Keith PK, Roy M, Waserman S, Sears MR. The September epidemic of asthma exacerbations in children: a search for etiology. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005 Jan;115(1):132-8.
 Hospital Episode Statistics, Department of Health; Scottish Morbidity Record, Information Services Division, NHS Scotland; Health Services Wales; Hospital Inpatients System, Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety Northern Ireland
 Office for National Statistics, General Register Office for Scotland, Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency