Asthma and Children
The majority of children with asthma have allergies. Even exposure to low-grade allergens (those that don't cause significant allergic reactions) may increase the severity of a child's asthma. In addition, allergies may play a role in undiagnosed asthma cases. Other triggers of childhood asthma may include:
- Upper respiratory infections, such as colds
- Inhaled irritants, such as secondhand smoke
- Certain weather conditions, such as cold air
- Physical expressions of emotion, such as crying, laughing, or yelling
However, with proper management of the asthma, such as avoiding triggers, taking prescribed medications, monitoring for warning signs, and knowing what to do during an asthma attack, a child with asthma can conduct a healthy and active lifestyle.
How asthma will affect a child throughout his or her lifetime depends on the child. Many infants and toddlers have an episode or two of wheezing during viral illnesses (such as cold or flu). However, the majority of these children don't go on to develop asthma later in life. For some children with persistent wheezing and asthma during childhood, the condition improves during the teenage years. About half of the children who have asthma at a young age appear to "outgrow" it, although the asthma symptoms may reappear later in life. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, asthma can't be cured, but can be controlled with proper and adequate diagnosis, education, and treatment.
Exercise, such as running, may trigger an asthma attack in the majority of children with asthma. However, with proper management of the child's asthma, a child with asthma can maintain full participation in most sports. Aerobic exercise actually improves airway function by strengthening breathing muscles. Some tips for exercising with asthma include the following:
- Have your child breathe through the nose and not the mouth to warm and humidify the air before it enters the airways.
- Give your child asthma medication before exercising, as recommended by your child's doctor.
- Have your child carry a "reliever" or "reserve" medications, just in case of an asthma attack.
- During cold weather, have your child wear a scarf over the mouth and nose, so that the air breathed in is warm and easier to inhale.
Some children with asthma may need to take their medications during school hours. It's important that the child, family, doctor, and school staff all work together toward meeting the child's asthma treatment goals. To ensure optimal asthma care for your child at school, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends the following:
- Meet with teachers, the school nurse, and other relevant school staff to inform them about your child's condition, special needs, and asthma management plan in case of an urgent or emergent situation.
- Educate school personnel on your child's asthma medications and how to assist during an asthma attack. It is also important to ask them to not change your child's asthma care management plan in an emergent situation unless approved by your child's doctor.
- Ask school staff to treat your child "normally" when the asthma is under control.
- Before starting a physical education class, educate that teacher or coach on exercise-induced asthma.
- Check indoor air quality, allergens, and irritants in the school.
- Take steps to prevent asthma symptoms from starting that could hamper your child's energy level.
- Ensure your child's emotional well-being by reassuring him or her that asthma doesn't have to slow them down or make them different from other children.
It's very important to be honest with your child about his or her disease, the severity of the disease, and the use of medications. Always remember as your child grows that independence is an important goal. Children with asthma don't want to be different, yet they'll need guidance and supervision on any restrictions they might have:
- Toddlers. This age group relies completely on the parents. They understand little about the disease. The most important factor with this age group is to try to make medication time a fun one, while stressing the importance of taking the medications. Let them assist in any way possible.
- School-age. This group has an increased ability to understand their disease and its impact. They should be taught about their medications, how to exercise caution, and how to avoid their triggers. They should be allowed to play with peers and monitor their own symptoms.
- Adolescents. Generally, adolescents resist having to take chronic medications, don't like having restrictions on their life, and don't want to be different. It's crucial to involve adolescents in every aspect of the management of their asthma. They should help with goal setting and help decide which medications work best. Asthma "contracts" can be given to adolescents in order that they may have some control of their asthma, yet continue to allow overall parental supervision of the condition.
Having asthma doesn't have to mean having less fun than other adolescents. It is important for your adolescent to tell his or her friends and dates what triggers the asthma, such as cigarette smoke or even perfumes or aftershaves, depending on his or her sensitivity. In addition, your adolescent should continue taking the asthma medication as prescribed. If your adolescent has exercise-induced asthma, he or she may need to take a preventive medicine before participating in any physical activities, such as dancing. Always consult your child's doctor if you or your child have questions or concerns.
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