Asthma Action Plan for Your Child
They cough. They wheeze. They struggle to breathe.
Nine million U.S. children have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lifetime. Some 6.5 million children currently have asthma, while one out of 13 school-aged kids has asthma. Recently, because of the breadth of the disease, parents have been given new asthma treatment protocols specifically designed for children.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult for a person to breathe. "The bronchial tubes become swollen and narrowed, and mucus is secreted into the tubes. (The swollen and mucus plugged tubes) make it difficult to breathe," says Dr. Maeve O’Connor, a physician with Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center.
As the number of asthmatic children has grown, asthma’s treatment and management has become more accurate. Now, parents and doctors can work together using the newly released "Guidelines for the Treatment and Management of Asthma" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, October 2007).
"Asthma is one of the most common health problems in the United States, and it can significantly affect patients’ lives — at school, at work, at play and at home," says Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the NHLBI. "It is essential that asthma patients benefit from the best available scientific evidence, and these guidelines bring such evidence to clinical practice."
Previously, treatment guidelines for asthma were tailored from studies conducted with adults and were not always effective with children. This new report allows doctors to pinpoint a child’s condition and match it with an appropriate treatment. Most important, it allows parents to work with doctors in the daily control of their child’s asthma.
Age Matters, Education Eases Fears
Asthmatic children are now divided into three age groups: 0-4; 5-11; and 12-adult. Dr. Cheryl Courtlandt, director of the Asthma Program at Levine Children’s Hospital says this is important, because the disease may change over time and have different risks and levels of impairment. "Now there is much scientific evidence for treatment of younger children," she adds.
For instance, while one symptom for a 10-year-old may call for general medication, the same symptom in a 2-year-old may require a more specific course of treatment.
In addition, by closely monitoring symptoms, doctors are able to whittle down the appropriate treatment. "We want the child to be as symptom free as possible," explains Courtlandt. "These guidelines look to control, monitor and adjust treatment until the child is symptom-free."
Parents can help their child’s doctor by regularly keeping track of how many times the child has nighttime awakenings or how often the symptoms interfere with the child’s normal daily activities. With these updates, the doctor is better able to adapt treatment to the immediate needs, allowing the child to play, sleep, eat and enjoy life in good health.
Another key to managing asthma is education. Parents can become paralyzed when they allow preconceived prejudices, fears of suffocation and the deluge of information on the Internet to overwhelm them.
"I let parents know asthma can be treated," says O’Connor. "I answer their immediate questions, but because I know more will arise, I ask them to write down a list of questions and bring them back to me. This way, the parents can be empowered with knowledge about a treatable disease."
When a child is newly diagnosed with asthma, parents must not be afraid to ask questions, and they should read the informational material given to them by their child’s doctor. Learning about triggers and knowing how to spot signs and symptoms of an asthma attack also helps families to be able to live with the disease without allowing it to control their lives.
Be sure, too, to share the information with the child’s school, caregiver, extended family and friends, which will only increase a child’s likelihood of conquering asthma.
Trigger-Free Homes Lessen Attacks
Allergens and other triggers can send an asthma sufferer into a critical situation. O’Connor suggests parents minimize allergens in the home by keeping mold levels down by cleaning with bleach, changing bed linens often and vacuuming carpets multiple times over the course of a week. In addition, reducing the child’s contact with the family pet will help.
Parents also must work with the child’s doctor to identify asthma-related triggers specific to the child. Here are a few:
Finally, when prescribing medication, doctors use the new guidelines to create a plan flexible enough to encompass multiple components and taking into consideration the child’s age, frequency of symptoms and severity of asthma incidents. Most important, parents and children must follow the doctor’s advice and take medications as directed.
Experts agree, at the end of the day, there is one constant for the successful treatment of asthma: teamwork. Including family members, friends, teachers and caregivers in the child’s action plan is crucial to helping an asthmatic child enjoy being a kid and living as normally as possible.
Does my child have asthma?
Common symptoms include:
• Persistent cough or nighttime cough
• Wheezing or shortness of breath
• Chest tightness
• Easily fatigued during exercise
• Frequent colds without respite between illnesses
Kristin Cassell is a local freelance writer and mother of two who lives in Huntersville.