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Summer, 2011

Asthma Research into Action

Fall Isn’t Just Back-to-School Season: It's Also Asthma Flare-up Season

As parents of children with asthma prepare their back-to-school to-do list in the next month or so, they’ll want to make sure that an asthma follow-up visit with their child’s health care provider is on that list. By using follow-up visits to ensure that their young scholar has his or her asthma under control in time for the school year, parents can minimize the chance of asthma attacks and resulting missed school days this fall.

Asthma is a major cause of school absenteeism in the United States. In 2008, children ages 5–17 missed an average of four days of school a year because of their asthma. Overall, children miss about 10.5 million school days a year as a result of asthma. Yet, flare-ups in asthma symptoms can be avoided, with help from regularly scheduled follow-up visits.

Girl and mother receiving instructions on using an inhaler with spacer from doctorDoctor shows girl and mother how to use inhaler with spacer

“Repetition leads to improved adherence, and medications can be adjusted to meet changes in asthma,” said Dr. William W. Busse, an asthma expert and professor of medicine in the Division of Allergy Pulmonary and Critical Care at the University of Wisconsin.

Scheduling follow-up visits is one of the six NAEPP Guidelines Implementation Panel (GIP) messages that clinicians can follow to help their school-aged patients and others to manage their asthma. This recommendation, selected from the clinical guidelines to drive improvements in asthma care and control, is based on research funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others. Now, new research funded by NIH is adding to our understanding of how to prevent seasonal asthma attacks.

Dr. Busse was the author of a recent NIH-funded study—A Randomized Trial of Omalizumab (Anti-IgE) for Asthma in Inner-City Children. The study found that when coupled with guidelines-based therapy, omalizumab (a drug that targets an antibody that plays a key role in allergy) helped significantly decrease asthma symptoms among inner-city youth and nearly eliminated seasonal increases in asthma attacks. The drug’s effectiveness had another bonus, too: It reduced the need for other asthma medications.

“By reducing the medication load, one reduces the potential for side-effects [to the patient] as well as costs, especially for inhaled corticosteroids,” said Dr. Busse.

Prescribing omalizumab is not without its challenges, though, as it can cost some $1,000 a month. Aside from incorporating omalizumab into a patient’s regimen, both clinicians and patients can take other steps to avoid increased asthma symptoms this fall. Those steps can include charting out ways to avoid or minimize outside triggers from allergies, as well as indoor, household triggers such as cockroaches and dust mites.

That’s why it’s important for parents to schedule a follow-up visit before summer’s end, so that they and their child’s clinician can craft an asthma action plan—or rather, in this case, a sort of “lesson plan”—for the school year and beyond.

For a sample asthma action plan, download or order NIH’s Asthma Action Plan/Things to Do to Avoid Asthma Triggers.

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Last Updated July 2011

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