Children with asthma are up to three times more likely to need medical help as the school year starts and the NHS has called on parents to keep asthma medicine close at hand this week.

One in ten young people has asthma, with spikes in demand for help from GPs and hospitals in the weeks after school holidays, and an annual peak for children in September.

Last year there were 25,128 cases of under-16s going to hospital with asthma, while recent analysis published by Public Health England found that GP appointments for children with asthma increase this month, with cases more than doubling and boys more likely to need help, while the total number of emergency hospital admissions for asthma typically jumps between August and September from around 3,500 to more than 6,000.

The combination of coughs and colds circulating, children getting out of the habit of using inhalers during the summer break, air pollution and the stress of term starting, is thought to contribute to the spike in asthma cases.

Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma UK and a practising GP says: “The ‘Back to School’ effect of asthma can be frightening and potentially life-threatening for children returning to classrooms this week. It’s easy for children to fall out of routines over the summer and forget to take their asthma medicines. This means their asthma is a ticking time bomb and then when they catch a cold or flu at school, they are at risk of having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

“If a child is using their reliever inhaler (usually blue) three or more times a week, coughing or wheezing at night or feeling out of breath and struggling to keep up with their friends, parents should book them an urgent appointment with their GP.”

Young people urged to prioritise taking their asthma medication

Asthma is the most common long-term medical condition for children in the UK, and being with a new group of classmates can also lead to the spreading of germs, cold and flu bugs. 

The NHS outlines some simple steps parents can take to ensure a child's treatment is managed and kept under control, including:

  1. Having a child’s up-to-date written asthma action plan prepared by a GP. The school should also have a copy of the child’s asthma action plan and  teachers should be aware if pupils help using their puffer.
  2. Ensure your child gets back into their asthma routine before the school year starts, including taking preventer medications every day if prescribed
  3. Check with the pharmacist that your child is using their inhaler if they are old enough to use it by themselves
  4. Have a check-up before the school year sports lessons start
  5. Pack a spare reliever puffer and spacer in your child’s school bag, checking that the puffer isn’t empty or out of date.
  6. Talk to the school about possible asthma triggers and whether staff members receive training on how to recognise and respond to asthma symptoms.

Asthma UK also provides advice to parents about how to cut the risk of attacks, including speaking to a nurse if there are concerns about medication and helping children to get into the habit of using their inhaler.

Dr Rahul Chodhari of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: “We know that every 20 minutes a child is admitted to hospital because of an asthma attack and poor management of the condition is often to blame. To prevent children reaching crisis point, every child should have an asthma management plan. Sicking to a routine of taking preventative medicine prescribed is also recommended and if your systems get worse, see your GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible to review treatment.”

The focus on asthma care for young people is part of a new Children and Young People’s Transformation Programme, to improve diagnosis of key conditions, help children, parents and the health service to better manage ill health, co-ordinate services and reduce avoidable deaths.