I Have Two Kids With Asthma And 'Peak Week' Is Really Scary

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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Like the 6.2 million children who have asthma, my two asthmatic sons have had their fair share of scary AF moments.

There was the first time that my older son had an asthma attack and I had no idea what was happening. He’d been up all night with a cough, and suddenly I noticed that he was coughing so hard that his chest was tightening on each inhale, he was wheezing, and he was generally listless and pale. Thankfully, it was during business hours and I was able to rush him to the doctor, who promptly put him on liquid steroids and administered enough nebulized meds to open up his lungs and get him breathing again.

Those minutes when I realized that his meds weren’t getting into his lungs—and he was experiencing the worst asthma attack I’d ever seen—were some of the most terrifying moments of my life.

“You’re lucky he wasn’t hospitalized,” the doctor told me, who sent us home with the nebulizer, put us on a strict routine of medication administration, and gave us a referral to a pediatric pulmonologist for evaluation.

Then there was a the time my second son was having a huge asthma attack in the middle of the night and our nebulizer completely conked out. This time, my son was hospitalized, because his asthma attack was really bad and he needed immediate treatment. Those minutes when I realized that his meds weren’t getting into his lungs—and he was experiencing the worst asthma attack I’d ever seen—were some of the most terrifying moments of my life.

I am lucky in that those were pretty much the two worst moments of my life as an asthma parent, because I know that for some kids, severe asthma attacks and hospitalizations are par for the course.

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Like most parents whose kids have chronic health conditions, I’ve learned a lot about managing asthma attacks over years (including the little known fact that you should always, always have two nebulizers on hand in case one breaks in the middle of the night), but I recently learned something new, totally enlightening, and really helpful for asthma sufferers everywhere.

My kids were just on their nebulizers last week after a bad cold—and yep, it was the third damn week of September.

It turns out that there is one week each year where asthma symptoms tend to peak and where hospitals tend to see the most number of admitted patients. And nope, it’s not during spring allergy season, or during the peak of cold and flu season. It’s during September—the third week of September, to be precise.

A journalist named Peter DeMarco, who tragically lost his wife to asthma during asthma “peak week” in 2016, has been on a campaign to get the message out there about this particularly vulnerable time for asthma patients, in the hopes that this knowledge will better prepare asthma folks and their caretakers.

So what exactly is asthma “peak week,” and why does it happen when it does?

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, asthma attacks tend to peak in September—and in the third week of September most prominently—for a number of reasons. First, it’s peak Ragweed season (a fall pollen allergen, which can trigger asthma attacks). As the leaves begin to fall and collect outside, mold counts spike as well.

Add to that the fact that children have just returned to school (i.e., the human petri dish), where they are passing all manner of cold viruses back and forth—to each other, and then to siblings and other family members. Not to mention the fact that flu season can start as early as September.

“September is the perfect storm for those with asthma and allergies,” writes the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The combination of allergens and viruses means that you are exposed to a greater number of triggers than you normally are. And for kids with asthmatic lungs, managing all of that at once can make it really hard to keep asthma in check.

If you have asthma or have kids who do, I bet you were nodding right along as you read all that. I know that my kids’ asthma symptoms are usually pretty manageable in summer, and then BOOM, once the school year starts, they are pretty much a mess. In fact, my kids were just on their nebulizers last week after a bad cold—and yep, it was the third damn week of September.

None of this info is meant to scare parents or asthma patients, but rather to make sure that they are a little more vigilant during this peak week and month. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America offers some awesome tips to keep in mind during September (and obviously, if you or your kid have chronic asthma, these tips should be in full effect all the time).

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– Make sure to take your maintenance medication, and stay on track with the Asthma Action Plan as prescribed by your doctor.

– Get your flu shot. People with asthma are more vulnerable to respiratory viruses, so getting a flu shot should be a no-brainer.

– Make sure you are up-to-date on the pneumococcal vaccine, which prevents pneumonia and other serious illnesses.

– Try your best to stay away from ragweed and reduce your expose to mold, whenever possible.

– Talk to your allergist about how to protect yourself from fall allergens.

– Practice good hygiene and take steps to avoid getting sick (not easy when your kids are in school, but teaching them to wash their hands like a mofo and keep their hands out of their mouths can be helpful).

– Eat well, sleep as much as possible, drink water, and reduce stress so that your body is healthy and strong.

– Check in with your doctor periodically to make sure your asthma is being well managed.

And of course, make sure you have plenty of asthma meds on hand, that you are able to refill any prescriptions should the need arise, and that all of your asthma equipment is well functioning and in good working order. If you use an inhaler, take it with you whenever you go, and if your child is coughing hard and wheezing, definitely keep them home from school so that you administer any needed medication and watch for any complications.

Asthma is very scary, and you are not overreacting by taking extra precautions, especially during times like “peak week,” when your child is more likely to experience an asthma attack. Knowledge is power when it comes to managing asthma, and keeping on top of things will ensure that you and your kids will stay healthy and well—and that your mama-heart can worry a little less.

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