The Asthma Society of Canada is launching a campaign to deal with the annual spike in hospitalization caused by children’s asthma attacks on the 17th or 18th day of school.
The program, Preventing the September Asthma Peak, for children in grades 4 to 6, has produced materials for students, teachers and parents, as well as lesson plans that complement the Ontario school curriculum.
Dr. Mark Greenwald, a spokesperson for the society and chair of its medical and science committee, is a professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto and has a private practice dealing with allergies.
Eighty per cent of asthma cases are due to the rhinovirus, he said – in other words, the common cold. “The [best] way to avoid this is to make sure that children with asthma, and their friends, teachers and parents wash their hands.”
There are other reasons that the spike in asthma attacks occurs, Greenwald said. For one thing, during the summer, many people become lax not only in taking their medications but also in filling their prescriptions.
Many people simply don’t achieve control of their asthma, he said, defining “control” as not coughing or wheezing, not waking up at night coughing or wheezing and not losing time at school or work because of the condition.
Asthma, Greenwald stressed, seriously affects quality of life. “It is the most common cause of hospitalization of children, 80 per cent of whom are diagnosed before the age of five. Even a mild case can become serious, sometimes leading to death.”
People sometimes back off treatment too soon, he noted. “You must not only gain control, but maintain it,” he said.
Greenwald described an experiment he conducts with groups of children. He has the first row of youngsters stick their hands in a bowl of glitter. Then they turn around and shake hands with the child behind them. That child gets glitter on his or her hand and then turns to shake hands with the child behind. It takes many rows of handshakes until no more glitter, standing in for cold germs, is passed.
There also appears to be some genetic component to asthma, he said.
A study of 70,000 people in Belarus showed that, contrary to a popular belief, breast feeding does not prevent it.
Current scientific thought is that there is a definite relationship between those who develop allergies and those with asthma, Greenwald said.
In a Scandinavian study, children who had shown signs of allergies were treated with allergy shots. “Ten years later, less than half of those who statistically might have been expected to develop asthma did so,” he said.
In Israel, the number of children with asthma is much the same as anyplace else, he said. However, he added that peanut allergies are not as commonplace there as in North America. Rather, one sees allergies to sesame and to olive tree pollen.
For more information or to see the educational kit, call the Asthma Society of Canada, 1-866-535-7312, or visit the society website at asthma.ca.