Lockdowns decrease paediatric asthma presentations
Lockdowns led to a dramatic decrease in the number of young people taken to Sydney hospitals for their asthma during the pandemic. These are the findings from a new study, published in Springer Nature, investigating the impact of the three COVID-19 waves in NSW on paediatric asthma-related hospital presentations.
The research found a significant decline in presentations while stay-at-home restrictions were in force in the first wave, the Avalon outbreak, and the state’s second wave of the pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic predictions.
Study Lead and Paediatric Respiratory Epidemiologist at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, and UNSW, Nusrat Homaira, says there are several factors that can be linked to the decline.
“Restricted movement and school closures restricted the opportunity for the transmission of respiratory infections, which are the major triggers for asthma flare-ups,” she said. “Additionally, there was less exposure to outdoor air pollution from staying at home, and there is also evidence that general outdoor air quality in NSW improved during the lockdown months.”
A collaboration of researchers, from Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, UNSW, University of Sydney and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, analysed Emergency Department attendances and inpatient admissions for asthma at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead throughout the pandemic, comparing it to data collected between 2015 and 2019.
The 50 to 70 per cent drops in figures were predominant in April, May and December in 2020, and August 2021, coinciding with Greater Sydney gathering or movement restrictions at that time.
However, in 2020 and 2021, the overall percentage in the annual figures did not reveal any differences to pre-pandemic figures.
Asthma affects almost 14 per cent of children worldwide and is the most common chronic respiratory cause of childhood hospitalisation.
Jimmy Lagis has suffered with respiratory difficulties since he was a baby, with winters usually being particularly hard. His mother Susanne says the first winter of the pandemic in 2020 was the first one he didn’t present to hospital. However, his asthma did flare-up in November after lockdown was lifted.
“We were slowly getting back to normal life when he deteriorated quite quickly. He was taken by emergency ambulance to hospital and was then transferred to Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH) because he was at high risk of needing to be taken into the ICU. He was there for about a week, needing high-flow oxygen and round the clock care. It was quite intense for a few days,” she said.
The winter season during the 2021 lockdown was another easier one for the nine year old, but Susanne says it’s a constant consideration; Jimmy’s Asthma Action plan is always kept up to date, with half-yearly visits to the SCH High Risk Asthma Clinic.