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Asthmatics suffer at the beginning of the school year

Monday, August 21, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jim Ritter

Back to school is a tough time for many students, but it's especially difficult for kids with asthma. A recent study found that asthma attacks peak shortly after the school year starts. And a new poll by the American Lung Association has found that most parents have not taken steps to manage their child's asthma at school.
The poll found that 52 percent of parents don't talk to teachers about their child's asthma, and only 42 percent make sure asthma medications are available at school. Only 27 percent talk to the school administration about their child's health condition.
'September epidemic'
Many parents are reluctant to take such steps because they're afraid to label their child. Or they mistakenly fear their children would be barred from gym class or field trips, said Maureen Damitz of the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago.
During a 12-year period in Canada, asthma hospitalizations for school-age children peaked an average of 18 days after Labor Day, according to a study published last March in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Canadian schools traditionally start the day after Labor Day.
Researchers called the phenomenon the "September epidemic."
Dr. Karen Malamut has noticed the September epidemic in Chicago, as well. Malamut, an asthma specialist with the Mobile Care Foundation, suggests three possible reasons:
n Asthmatic kids contract colds and other respiratory viruses from other students, and these infections trigger asthma attacks.
n Many kids have relatively few problems during the summer. Consequently, parents slack off on controller medications that prevent asthma attacks. "They get a false sense of security," Malamut said.
n Classrooms contain asthma triggers such as moldy textbooks, furry pets, odors from paints and cleaning agents and dust. Eleven-year-old Clarisel Pena suffers asthma attacks triggered by her dust allergy, and she'll be exposed to plenty of dust when she returns to school.
"Where there are books and paper, there's dust," said her mother, Sandra Pena. To prevent allergic reactions, Clarisel will be taking antihistamines every day.

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