Steep rise in children in deprived areas hospitalised with asthma when schools return

Sonia Destouche, 49, is now home schooling her son Jahmarley, 8, because his asthma is so bad (Asthma + Lung)
Sonia Destouche, 49, is now home schooling her son Jahmarley, 8, because his asthma is so bad (Asthma + Lung)

Children and teenagers in the most deprived regions of England are four times more likely to be hospitalised with asthma compared to those in wealthier areas when they return to school, a study has found.

Analysis by Asthma + Lung UK reveals that the number of children in the most deprived areas being admitted to hospital with a life-threatening asthma attack increased by 320 per cent in September 2021 compared with the month before.

Among the wealthiest 10 per cent of teenagers, the figure had risen by 170 per cent in the same time period.

A total of 368 asthma admissions were recorded among children in the most deprived areas - nearly four times the amount reported in the wealthiest areas.

The charity crunched the most recent NHS hospital admissions data among 5-19-year-olds in England, which showed how many were admitted to hospital with an asthma attack in September 2021 compared to the previous month of August that same year. They compared the most deprived parts of England with the least.

Asthma attacks usually spike when children return to school after the summer holidays as pupils are more exposed to colds, viruses or dust mites in a school setting. Children may also fall out of their usual preventer inhalter routines over the sumemer break, leaving them more vulnerable to an asthma attack when they return to school.

But Emma Rubach, Head of Health Advice at the charity said the figured showed a “huge disparity between the number of children and teenagers admitted to hospital after having an asthma attack from areas where there are higher levels of deprivation, compared to areas of lower deprivation, which is very worrying."

"Reasons for this could include children living in poorer quality housing with issues like damp and mould that can trigger asthma attacks, or even experiencing higher levels of stress – another asthma trigger. Our studies have also shown that air pollution levels tend to be higher in more deprived areas, which could be another contributing factor.”

Sonia Destouche, 49, says she is now home schooling her son Jahmarley, 8, due to the severity of his asthma and fears that he may have an attack if he returns to school in September.

She believes the mould in her one-bedroom council flat in Walthamstow, east London, has made Jahmarley’s asthma much worse and that more needs to be done to help those on low incomes with lung conditions.

“Every day is a struggle,” she said. “Both Jahmarley and I have developed asthma and I think a lot of it has to do with our living conditions. We have lived in this flat for 11 years and it is covered in mould.

“I home school Jahmarley now so I can keep a better eye on him, as he has had asthma attacks in school before and I don't want to take the risk that he could have another, and this time might not recover. Living on benefits makes it hard to afford to pay for extra things like travel to and from hospitals and putting on the heating when it’s cold, which is important when you have asthma, as cold weather can trigger an attack.

“The rising cost of living has made things even harder for families like mine who often have to make tough choices about what they spend their money on. If I could afford it, I would move to a private rented property with no mould and in a nice area. Perhaps then Jahmarley’s asthma would improve, and he could return to school, but sadly I’m not in that situation.”

The charity has backed NHS' #AskAboutAsthma campaign, which focuses on the importance of children getting support with their asthma management. It is seeking to promote awareness of four measures that sufferers can use to manage the condition: having an asthma plan and regular review, using inhalers properly and knowing how air pollution affects them.

Dr Oliver Anglin, NHS England – London Clinical Director for babies, children and young people’s transformation programme, said: ‘‘Asthma is one of the most common reasons for children to end up in hospital and sadly remains a cause of death which could be prevented. It is also a condition where outcomes are impacted by wider factors with those from more deprived backgrounds, more than two times more likely to end up in hospital than their less deprived peers."