Asthma is a very common childhood illness, but that doesn’t make it any less scary for a patient and their parents. Any condition that affects your child’s ability to breathe can be highly stressful. That’s why, as a parent, you’ll want to know the basics about asthma, so you can recognize symptoms if they appear, know how to help your child maintain healthier breathing, and rest easy knowing that your child’s asthma is well controlled. To this end, our board-certified pediatricians and nurse practitioners at Children’s Wellness Center are here to offer you some helpful insight.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a condition that causes your airway to be both inflamed and constricted, leaving less room for air to pass through. Certain triggers (like illness, allergens, pollutants, and exercise) can also make the symptoms worse and quickly constrict the airways even further. The severity will vary, but these triggers can bring on an asthma attack which can limit breathing to a dangerous level. Asthma may or may not get milder with age, but regardless, the symptoms are very treatable and controllable with the right medicines. In other words, while you should take your child’s asthma seriously and stay on top of their medications, you don’t need to be in constant fear for their safety.
How is Asthma Treated?
Asthma is primarily treated with inhaled medications because this delivers the medicine directly to the airways. There are two categories of asthma medicines: long-term and short-term. Long-term medications are taken on a daily basis to keep your child’s symptoms under control, while short-term medicines are only to be taken when your child is having an asthma attack. The purpose of the long-term medications is to limit the number of times you need to use the short-term ones, but it’s always best to have your child’s short-term medicine available in case of an emergency.
There are a few different ways asthma medication can be used. Most parents have heard about inhalers, and they come in two forms: metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) and dry powder inhalers (DPIs). MDIs are the most common type, and they are used with a valve-holding chamber, commonly called a spacer. Using a spacer is recommended for all ages, as studies show even older children and adults will get 20-30% more medicine delivered to their lungs if a spacer is used. DPIs are not recommended for young children as they require some degree of motor control and cannot be used with a spacer. For young children, a nebulizer might be used. This product converts liquid medication into a mist that kids can inhale through a mask or mouthpiece.
What to Do if You Think Your Child Has Asthma
As a parent, there are a few signs you should look for in your kids:
- Frequent dry coughing, especially at night
- Frequent wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest congestion
- Difficulty recovering from respiratory illnesses
- Frequent dry coughing in children after or during exercise, laughing, or crying
If you’re concerned that your child might have asthma, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. We’ll gather information and evaluate your child to determine if your child has asthma. In some cases, the best way to diagnose asthma is simply to start treating it and see if your child improves. When we reach a diagnosis, we’ll be able to categorize your child’s condition as intermittent asthma (with symptoms happening only rarely), mild persistent asthma, moderate persistent asthma, or severe persistent asthma. This will help us determine the best medications for your child.
Tips for Managing Your Child’s Asthma
If your child is diagnosed with asthma, you will be given instructions about how to manage their condition, but here are a few more helpful tips:
- Follow all medication instructions carefully, and teach your child how to do the same, because you may not be there every time he/she needs medicine.
- Inform all of your child’s coaches, teachers, group leaders, child care professionals, babysitters, and anyone else who cares for him/her. Tell them your child’s asthma diagnosis, explain the signs of a potential asthma attack (especially coughing), and instruct them about what to do in that situation.
- Have an open line of communication with your child’s school, and use it well. Make sure all the proper consent forms are in place for your child to be able to have his/her medication at school, and find out what your child needs to do to access the medicine and explain it to him/her.
- Find out which specific triggers make your child’s asthma symptoms worse. The most common ones includeillness, allergens (pollen, mold, dust, animal dander), air pollution, cigarette smoke, chemical deodorizers (like scented cleaning products and air fresheners), exercise, and stress. Take steps to minimize the presence of these triggers in your home.
An asthma diagnosis can be understandably stressful for any parent because, after all, you just want your child to be happy and healthy. Fortunately, asthma is a very manageable condition, so kids with asthma typically lead very normal, healthy lives, and so can you. If you think your child might have asthma or if his/her asthma is not well-controlled, schedule an appointment with us. For more tips about asthma and other aspects of pediatric health, follow Children’s Wellness Center on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.