The ABC’s of Asthma
Asthma is a disease that affects breathing. Certain things cause the airways that carry air that is breathed in to the lungs to become swollen and irritated. It can range from mild with an occasional flare-up to severe and constant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asthma is one of the most common illnesses affecting children. Asthma is one of the most common reasons children miss school, and is also one of the top causes of emergency room and hospital visits for children. Although there is no cure for asthma, it is a very recognizable, preventable, and treatable disease, and does not have to limit your child.
Managing Your Child's Asthma
Know the triggers and signs. Cigarette smoke, cold air, dust, animals, mold, infections such as colds, and some particles in outdoor air, such as pollen, are all common triggers of asthma, especially if your child is allergic to them. In addition, asthma can be brought on or worsened by exercise. However, if your child has asthma that is affected by any of these things, it does not mean that she cannot go outside or play sports. In fact, it is healthy for her to do so. However, you need to know what brings on an asthma attack, and teach her and others around her to recognize these signs. Signs of an asthma attack include wheezing – a whistling noise heard during breathing, coughing, difficulty talking, visible difficulty breathing – like if your child is moving her chest muscles up and down, or pale skin. A peak flow meter is a small instrument that measures the airflow when a child breathes into it. The pediatrician might give you one, or it is inexpensive to purchase. It is a good idea to have one at home and make sure your child’s school has one.
Prevent asthma attacks at home. Your home is a place where you are in control of the environment and can minimize the things that trigger your child’s asthma once you know what they are. If you have pets, even if your child is not allergic, they should not sleep in his room, as dander from their skin/fur can trigger asthma. Be sure to get rid of any pests, such as cockroaches or mice. It is important to minimize dust and mold in your home by keeping it clean and dry. You can use a dehumidifier if your house tends to be damp, and avoid having indoor plants, even real Christmas trees, especially if your child has environmental allergies. Also limit the amount of time you keep windows open. Things like books and stuffed animals tend to gather dust, and there should not be too many in your child’s room. Pediatricians recommend avoiding certain kinds of bedding, like those made with down. You can also get protective allergy covers for pillows and mattresses. Ask the pediatrician to recommend ways to minimize your child’s exposure to the things he is allergic to and prevent an asthma attack.
Develop an asthma action plan. Another increasingly common way to manage asthma is to develop an asthma action plan with the help of your child’s doctor. This will help you and others, such as your child’s school, know what medication and treatment she needs based on her symptoms. If your child’s asthma is severe and she constantly has symptoms, she may be on daily medication to keep her asthma under control. This information would be noted in her asthma action plan in case she has a flare-up at school and needs medical attention. The plan should also have the contact information for your child’s doctor in case the school needs it.
Balance asthma and physical activity. Contrary to what you might think, physical activity is good for children with asthma, too. In fact, it can help to make their lungs and airways stronger, and exercise is often one of the ways to manage asthma, as long as the asthma is under control while your child is active and he follows prescribed treatment, including maintenance medication. Some types of sports or physical activity might be more difficult for your child than others, but you should let him try and see what his health allows him to do. You should also make sure the coach or instructor has a copy of your child’s asthma action plan and knows what to do in case of an attack. Your child should have his treatment medication on him at all times. If the cold weather or springtime pollen in the air trigger your child’s asthma, he might need to miss a few practices or games, or be sure to use a scarf. Also, warming up before and cooling down after practicing a sport might be helpful.
Follow up with a doctor. As your child grows and changes, the triggers and signs of her asthma may change, as well. It is important that you follow up with her doctor regularly to see if medications, treatment plan, or asthma action plan need to be changed or updated. You should also keep the school informed about any changes in her condition.
For more information, take a look at these articles/sites:
Help Your Child Breathe Easy
KidsHealth Asthma Basics