What Every Parent of an Asthmatic Child Should Know

by John Bottrell Health Professional

My advice for parents of kids with asthma: kids have a tendency to downplay their asthma.
In other words, your child's asthma is probably worse than you think.

I say this not just from personal experience from every possible aspect of asthma.
I know this from my own personal experience, from being a father of three asthmatic children, from being a respiratory therapist who treats asthma patients, and from being a friend to so many asthmatics.

I say this mainly as a former child asthmatic.
I was born with it, so I never knew what life was like being normal.
I have written many stories
at Respiratory Therapy Cave about being short of breath, and not really knowing I was short of breath.

I have many memories of playing football with my brothers, and walking into the house to take a breathing treatment many times during the game.
As I walked past my parents, I pretended to be normal because I figured if they knew I was short of breath they wouldn't let me finish playing ball.
I was probably right (although I was wrong about hiding that I was having trouble).

On January 8, 1985, I flew with my mom from my home in Michigan to Denver.
The next day I was admitted to National Jewish Health (back then it was National Jewish Hospital/ National Asthma Center), and the nurses immediately called a code blue on me.

They called a code blue because my lips and fingertips were blue due to lack of oxygen.
In other words, these nurses were the first people to ever call me out on downplaying my asthma.
As the asthma experts of the day, they were prepared for it and dealt with it accordingly.

Here I was short of breath, and my mom didn't even notice.
I was short of breath and I didn't even know it (or I knew and just dealt with it).
These nurses, on the other hand, knew just by looking at me.
They knew I was worse than I was showing (or telling).

"I'm fine I'm fine!" I remember saying, as they rushed to put me on oxygen and to give me a breathing treatment. "I'm fine. You don't need to panic like this."

"You are not fine!
Your asthma is bad!" The nurses said.

I remember my irritation at how they were treating me like I was going to die if they didn't do something.
In retrospect nearly 30 years later, they were right. I was bad.
My asthma was worse than even I thought.

I was born with asthma, so it was always there, lingering in my lungs.
I was so used to being short of breath that shortness of breath became normal.
Today, with vigilant parents and doctors, this should never, ever happen.

My point here is that it's easy, even normal, for kids to downplay their asthma.
In fact, the results of a
recent study conducted by UT Kids San Antonio and the Center for Airway Inflammation Research (cAIR) prompted one asthma
physician to say:

"Overall, children viewed themselves as less impaired, in comparison to how caregivers viewed the limitations that the asthma placed on the family."

That quote hit me, because it was (is) so true.
Interestingly, I didn't need to do a million dollar
study to figure it out.

if you have a child with asthma, what can you do to learn the truth about how good (or bad) your child's asthma
really is?
The key is to be vigilant, and...

  1. Know your child's asthma signs and symptoms. Chances are, kids aren't going to tell you they are short of breath, so it's your job to know when they are.
    For signs and symptoms: a.
    Click here for
    older child

    Click here for infant.

  2. Create an Asthma Action Plan. This is a plan for you to follow that will help you (or you and your child) decide what to during asthma attacks.
    Learn more information about an Asthma Action Plan.

  3. Take action when you observe the signs and symptoms in your child.
    This means following your child's Asthma Action Plan:

  • Plan regular asthma doctor visits (at least once a year)

  • Make sure they're taking their medicine as prescribed

  • Call their asthma doctor when appropriate

  • Take them to the emergency room
    if necessary

There is so much information about asthma today, there's no reason any child should have to suffer from asthma.

As asthma parents, it's our job to know when our children are suffering even when they don't see it in themselves (and even when they're pretending to be fine).

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).