One-in-four calls to Asthma Adviceline were in relation to children returning to school during Covid-19

September has always been one of the riskiest times of the year for people with asthma, especially children. Doctors see a significant spike in hospital visits and admissions of children with asthma, as a result of what is known as the ‘September asthma peak’. This year, due to Covid-19, children with asthma will require extra protection during the return to school.

The Asthma Society of Ireland has launched its Back2School Checklist as part of its ‘Life Alongside Covid-19’ campaign.

The Asthma Society’s Back2School Checklist, which is available to download from asthma.ie, will help support children returning to education and their parents by providing them with the necessary information on staying safe in school in a world where Covid-19 is ever-present.

Ms Emily Blennerhassett, interim CEO of the Asthma Society of Ireland, said: “Our services have experienced a high demand of calls relating to the reopening of schools.

“One-in-four calls to our Asthma and COPD Adviceline are directly related to returning to school during Covid-19. Parents are concerned for their children with asthma, teachers with chronic respiratory conditions are worried about returning to the classroom, and young people themselves are anxious about how they are going to cope in a school environment with their condition.

“The Asthma Society wants to support all people with asthma and COPD as schools reopen. Protecting their health is our top priority. In light of Covid-19, asthma management is more important than ever before.
“Our Back2School Checklist is a good place to start if you are worried about school, asthma management, and Covid-19.”

Back2School Checklist: For parents of children with asthma

This checklist is designed to support parents who are concerned about their children returning to school. It is important that children and young people with asthma returning to school are taking the appropriate measures to ensure their asthma is properly managed. Hospital admission rates for asthma peak when children return to school in September. In light of Covid-19, asthma management is now more important than ever.

Get the basics right

  • Use the inhaler technique videos on asthma.ie to help your child take their inhaler properly.
  • Make sure your child carries their reliever inhaler (usually blue) at all times in case of an asthma emergency. If your child is using their reliever inhaler more than twice a week, they may be over-reliant: Speak to your healthcare professional.
  • Complete an ‘Asthma Action Plan’ with your GP or respiratory specialist.
  • Familiarise yourself with the ‘5 Step Rule’ available from asthma.ie.
  • Follow the Asthma Society’s Top Tips for managing your condition and keeping well: https://www.asthma.ie/keeping-well-with-asthma-and-copd-during-covid-19.
  • Learn more about your child’s asthma: Visit asthma.ie to access a variety of free resources.

Stay COVID-19 aware

  • Encourage your child to wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water and use hand sanitiser as often as possible.
  • Encourage your child to cough and sneeze into a tissue or napkin then dispose of it immediately into a bin.
  • If your child develops Covid-19 symptoms, inform the school and self-isolate.
  • Speak to your school/request information about your school’s Covid-19 school policy statement: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/744f4-appendices-checklists-and-policies-that-schools-must-follow-covid-19-response-plan-for-safe-reopening-of-schools/.
  • Stay informed with Covid-19 updates from the HSE, Department of Health, and asthma.ie.
  • In primary schools, each class will be considered a ‘bubble’. Within that, there will be a series of smaller pods where children will work together continuously with a metre between each pod.
  • At secondary school level, there will be one-metre distancing between pupils.

Protect vulnerable people at home

  • Leave a plastic box at your front door, place personal belongings in it when entering the home, ie, schoolbag, shoes, and phone.
  • Encourage your child to wash or shower as soon as they enter the home, especially hands, arms and face with soap and hot water.
  • Wash and disinfect touched surfaces regularly.

Travel safely

  • If using public transport, encourage your child to sit beside their sibling/people from their household and use a leap card to avoid cash transactions.
  • Drive/walk/cycle where possible.
  • Secondary school pupils will be expected to wear a face-covering on school buses, apart from those with medical exemptions. They will use hand sanitisers upon boarding and are asked to sit next to the same sibling or pupil during each journey.

Prepare yourself

  • Discuss asthma-related risk with teachers/school.
  • If your child has severe asthma, speak to their GP/specialist about returning to school.
  • Ensure your child receives the flu vaccine when available in autumn, (free for children aged two-to-12 and those identified as extremely medically vulnerable during Covid-19).
  • Free-phone the Adviceline on 1800 44 54 64, or send a text to the new ‘Beating Breathlessness’ patient support WhatsApp service on 086 059 0132 to speak to an asthma nurse specialist’

Extremely medically vulnerable children should contact their GP/respiratory specialist in relation to returning to school, including those with severe asthma.

To further support parents, teachers, and young people with asthma moving into the 2020/2021 school year, the Asthma Society will be hosting a Facebook live session on August 13 at 4pm on @AsthmaIreland, featuring a respiratory specialist nurse. The Facebook event will be followed by a ‘Paediatric Webinar’ on 18 August 18, featuring experts on asthma and children discussing the return to school. The Facebook live and Webinar events will provide parents, young people and teachers with an opportunity to learn about the importance of asthma management as schools reopen.

The Asthma Society is also considering those in college with respiratory diseases returning to work during Covid-19. A Facebook live event featuring a respiratory nurse specialist speaking about asthma management in college will be held in August.

Ms Blennerhassett continued: “College too can be a difficult time for young people with asthma. For many starting college, they will be in charge of managing their condition for the first time. We want to reach out and ensure they understand their asthma and are able to care for themselves.

“We would love to visit schools and colleges to give them an opportunity to speak to a nurse directly about their asthma management. However, due to Covid-19, this cannot be the case. That’s why we have moved our campaign online. We will be hosting two Facebook lives and a paediatric webinar as part of this campaign in a bid to reach and support as many people as possible.”

The Asthma Society’s ‘Life Alongside Covid-19’ campaign launched recently, with resources to support people returning and readjusting to work outside of the home. This campaign is supported by AstraZeneca.

Mr Federico Viganò, Company President, AstraZeneca Ireland, said: “We were delighted with the success and interaction received since the Asthma Society’s initial launch of the Life Alongside Covid-19 campaign. A return to school and education can be a difficult time for children with asthma, their parents, and their teachers. We are happy to support the Asthma Society and believe that this campaign will provide the necessary support to those who are most vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19.”

The Asthma Society’s new Beating Breathlessness WhatsApp Patient Support Service has proven to be an important resource for those who need help managing their asthma or COPD in the context of Covid-19. People with asthma or COPD who have concerns about the reopening of schools and asthma management in light of Covid-19 can send a WhatsApp message to 086 059 0132 to start a conversation with an asthma and COPD nurse specialist.