Asthmatics Less Likely to finish School: Why?

A new European Study has suggested that children with asthma are three times more likely to leave school early, not finish their first year of University and are more likely to end up in lower paid employment.

If this is also the case in South Africa, the implications of this statistic are overwhelming when you consider that recent research estimates that almost half of our urban children are asthmatic!  The reasons for unsuccessful schooling are unclear, but is suggested that asthmatic children have poor scholastic attendance directly due to their condition causing absenteeism.

But we know there are also other reasons why asthmatic children find it tough to regularly attend school.

Asthma is often stigmatized, and many school educators and staff have no idea of the impact of asthma on a child’s health, mood, self-confidence, concentration and energy levels. Having an asthma attack that you need medicine to control is a massive blow to any person’s self confidence. Having these attacks in front of your friends is even worse!

Asthma attacks can happen anywhere at any time, and are often a reaction to airborne particles, over-exercise, emotional stress or foodstuffs. When they occur, the asthmatic requires the environment to be controlled and calm, and to have medicine or rescue techniques at hand – immediately – in order to avoid a potentially life threatening situation. Unfortunately, schools are not in a position to always offer this and parents are often afraid to send their children to school when their asthma is bad.

Asthmatic kids are often embarrassed by their condition and find it difficult to fit in already because of their conspicuous symptoms and obvious reliance on medicine.  Many asthmatic children report that they prefer not to attend classes because they feel  bullied and a long overdue study in 2012 highlighted this issue in the UK.

But the rise in “Allergy Bullying” with children being put at severe risk at school, or on the way to or from school, is an area of serious concern. Fatalities have occurred in bullied children with severe food allergies, and we are hearing about how this is becoming a regular occurrence in all parts of the world.

There are countless reports of asthmatic children having their medicine stolen by bullies, or being teased, or driven to serious asthmatic attacks by their peers due to stress arising from bullying.  The idea that asthma is simply a sign of being “unfit” or “weak” is still the common thinking in society.  Even well-meaning but ill-informed teachers can give instructions that make asthma worse.  Controlled substances complicate matters further in schools with strong anti-drug policies, often leaving asthmatic children without rescue meds at hand when they do have an asthma attack.  Teachers are not generally trained to deal with asthma and often their panic – or indifference –  makes matters worse.

And of course, the strong medicines used to help asthmatics gain control of uncontrolled asthmatic conditions often have many side effects and can result in poor concentration, poor growth and development and lower energy levels.

Continual regular asthma attacks that necessitate chronic, daily use of short acting bronchodilators containing salbutamol and it’s derivatives (like ventese, asthavent or ventolin) is considered risky behaviour that actually worsens asthma.  The WHO states that needing a rescue or short acting inhaler more than two days out of seven suggests that asthma symptoms are uncontrolled. In such cases, a maintenance therapy is usually advised, but most parents are wary of putting their children on long term prescription medications that may have far-reaching consequences.

Stats show that uncontrolled asthma can result in an increased need for sudden emergency interventions and stronger meds –  leading to long periods of recovery and low energy – and obviously this impacts school attendance. But chronic use of medication also takes it’s toll, resulting in lowered resistance to infections like colds and flu, which leaves many asthmatics in a “catch-22” situation.  All of these factors influence children’s abilities to attend school and concentrate on their lessons.

But at this point, it seems that parents are getting all the blame, because many are (rightly) concerned about the effects of longer term chronic therapies like Montelukast and maintenance doses of steroid based medications.

Parents say they are often accused of not managing their child’s asthma optimally because of their reluctance to medicate.  But this is not always the case: there are the many reports of asthma exacerbation after the holidays, when parents cannot effectively manage and control their child’s medicine regime because the child is at school.

Parents often feel that the struggles of their asthmatic children stem from the side effects of their medications. In these cases, parents usually feel that these problems could be mitigated by managing and controlling asthma symptoms naturally without harsh chemical substances that affect their child’s temperament, development and stress levels. However, alternative herbal based medications are not always clinically approved, and using alternatives could put children at risk of increased asthma later  – especially in the few weeks after the chronic medications like cortisone have finally cleared from the body.  It is extremely difficult as a parent to know which way to turn to find the balance that is so needed for children to thrive.

This is where Buteyko Adjunct programs and health techniques have an important role to play in the management and prevention of asthma. Buteyko Breathing Adjunct practitioner guided programs are shown to bring even the most stubborn and reactive asthma under control without adding more medicines.

However, the reluctance of medical professionals to suggest such interventions usually arise from the fact that Buteyko techniques are not always offered in a professional setting, or are used haphazardly off the internet or from books with little regard to each individuals’ particular set of breathing challenges. But clinical trials prove that the Buteyko Method can be a highly effective intervention that helps uncontrolled asthmatics regain true control over their condition. The best outcomes result from in-person programs with trained Buteyko practitioners who can assess, refer and assist with the unique and individual aspects of this breathing condition.

Many people learning about Buteyko online or off youtube videos don’t know what the exercises and techniques are used for and why and when to apply them. Many erroneously assume they need to have longer pauses between breaths, hold their noses and nod their heads, or breathe shallowly.  This assumption that Buteyko is a “one size fits all” approach shows that Professor Buteyko’s methods are not well understood.   Using Buteyko as a “gimmick” or getting it wrong may even create new problems.  The respiratory center of the brain has a very high level of plasticity, which means that if you introduce “mistakes” into the breathing pattern they can become part of your everyday breathing – leading to more breathing difficulties over time. It can be just as dangerous to haphazardly alter your breathing pattern as it is to haphazardly take untested and uproven medications for a condition which is considered life-threatening.

This is why in-person practitioner guided techniques; offered by a trained Buteyko professional who can give a full assessment and create a program based on your individual patterns and unique lifestyle requirements; is invaluable. When offered in such a manner, Buteyko has been clinically proven to work alongside medicine in creating true control, and has reduced the need for medicine (96% reduction in SABA use and 49% reduction in ICS use) by reducing symptoms altogether and empowering asthmatics to understand how and why they get symptoms; to know when they are most likely to struggle; and how to take responsibility for self-care.

©Buteyko South Africa





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