So you watched as your or son (or daughter) struggled for air and felt helpless. You listened as his doctor said the words, "Your son has asthma." Now what do you do?
Thankfully for you asthma wisdom and resources have improved impressively since I grew up with asthma in the 1970s and 80s. While I suffered many nights, and missed many days of school, that should be a rare occurrence thanks to strides that have been made in the treatment of pediatric asthma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20.4 million adults over age 18 in the U.S. have asthma, while approximately 6.1 million kids (under age 18) have asthma. And while managing adult asthma is a challenge, managing children with asthma is especially challenging because most children depend on adults like you.
Thus, in a way, as the child suffers so does the entire family. So you, as a caregiver, have some work to do. With your help, your guidance, your child can lead a normal, active life.
So, with that in mind, here is your 10-step guide to raising a child who is diagnosed with asthma:
1. Find some asthma wisdom. You need to educate yourself, so you have resources to turn to. This will help you to ask the right questions and to feel more familiar with issues like signs of an asthma attack and the various medications your child may need. It's that simple. By reading this post, and hanging around our site, and asking questions, you are taking the most important step to good asthma management. You must read as much about asthma as you can possibly absorb.
It’s helpful to understand asthma basics. Asthma has two components: Airway constriction and inflammation.
- Airway constriction: This is when the muscles surrounding the airways tighten causing the airways to become narrowed, trapping air in the lungs, and making it hard to breath.
- Inflammation: Most asthmatics have a chronic reddening or swelling of the air passages in the lungs. This causes accumulation of mucus. If this is not treated it can lead to worsening bronchospasm.
2. Find a pediatrician or respiratory specialist. Sure, your son's already been seeing a doctor, you now need to make sure this is the best person to help you manage your son's asthma. A doctor who specializes in asthma care will prescribe the best medications for your child, and will listen to recommendations you have and work with you in managing your child's asthma.
3. Understand asthma triggers. There are many different things that trigger an asthma attack depending on the person. You must be very observant and work with your child's doctor to learn what your child's personal triggers are and how to help her avoid them or deal with them if exposure is unavoidable. If all else fails, there are medications that may help to limit symptoms, like antihistamines, leukotriene blockers, nasal sprays, and possibly allergy immunotherapy, which can help to desensitize children to certain allergens.
4. Know the early warning signs. A neat thing about an asthma attack or exacerbation is there are early warning signs that usually signal the event. If you are vigilant (and well educated), you should be able to pick up on these early signs in your child and treat them according to your asthma action plan (see #6 below).
5. Identify the late warning signs. A challenge in managing a child's asthma is they may be unaware they are having asthma symptoms. They might be short-of-breath and just think it's normal. Or they may be embarrassed or uncomfortable about sharing that they are not feeling well. Therefore, it is your job to know the late warning signs of asthma and treat them according to your asthma action plan. Late warning signs can include a tight chest, breathing hard or fast, using neck or stomach muscles to breathe, constantly coughing, having trouble talking, vomiting, having a blue tinge to lips or nails.
6. Develop an asthma action plan. This is why you need a good doctor. You need to work with your child and your child's asthma doctor in creating a good pediatric asthma action plan that works best for your child. There are some excellent templates for you to work with and have handy at home and on-the-go.
7. Involve other people. Basically, every single person involved in the care of your child should be aware that your child has asthma and they should know how to spot the early and late signs of asthma. Plus, all these adults need to be clued into your child's asthma action plan so your child can get the best care possible no matter where he is. The list of people includes teachers, principals, day care center employees, grandparents, uncles, and even brothers and sisters.
8. Keep rescue medicine on hand. Rescue inhalers are used to treat bronchospasm. They relax the lungs, open the airways, and often provide instant relief. The most common bronchodilators are albuterol (Proventil and Ventolin) and Xopenex (levalbuterol). You must make sure your child's rescue medicine is handy wherever your child is, including home, school, daycare, vacation, etc.
9. Stock your long-term control (preventative) medicine. When your child is exposed to a trigger, this can irritate already sensitive airways due to chronic inflammation. If your child has symptoms of asthma more than twice a week during the day or more than twice a month at night, then the doctor will likely recommend use of an inhaled corticosteroid. Kids cannot usually learn to use the same inhalers that adults would use. So a nebulizer with a facemask may be recommended to administer the bronchodilator. Some kids can learn to use a metered dose inhaler. Leukotriene modifiers may also be introduced in the long-term control protocol.
10. Always be vigilant. To the best of your ability, try to stay in tune with your child. Basically this would entail following steps 1 through 10. By following this guide to the best of your ability you will be helping your child lead a normal, active life, with fewer doctor visits, limited missed school days, and fewer emergency room visits. And when he does have trouble breathing, you or other adults in your child's life will know exactly what to do.