A beginners Guide to Asthma
Did you know according to the CDC about 6.8 million children in the United States suffer from asthma? The total number of children and adults who suffer from asthma account for 14.2 million doctors office visits and 1.8 million emergency department visits each year -1.
What is asthma?
Asthma is best explained by Dr. Chad Hays:
Let’s start by thinking about the lungs as an upside-down tree, with the trachea (or windpipe) as the trunk. The trachea divides to direct air into both lungs, and then branches into smaller and smaller airways to reach the microscopic sacs in the lungs where oxygen enters the blood.
Asthma is a disease caused by over-reactivity of these small airways, which causes the airway walls to contract. At the same time, these walls become swollen and begin to produce more mucus. This combination of factors takes tiny airways and makes them even smaller. As these airways shrink, it becomes difficult for air to get where it needs to go, and even harder for it to get back out. It’s a bit like trying to drink a smoothie through a coffee stirrer.
The outside observer may notice coughing, wheezing, and faster or more difficult breathing; people experiencing asthma symptoms feel chest tightness, shortness of breath, or a feeling of drowning.-2
What if you think your child has asthma?
Again, Dr. Hayes explains that you should get medical attention if you think your child is experiencing asthma or any trouble breathing. If you notice that your child is getting winded while running around, has a persistent cough you can talk to your pediatrician but if your child is having trouble breathing, breathing too fast or hard you probably want to take them into the emergency room. -2 A doctor should be able to diagnose if the breathing problem is asthma or something else.
What if my child has asthma?
Asthma can be effectively controlled and treated. Dr. Hayes discusses:
- Assessment and Monitoring: This refers to regular visits with the healthcare provider who manages your child’s asthma. Depending on your situation, this may be a pediatrician or family doctor, a physician assistant or nurse practitioner employed by their practice, or a specialist such as a pulmonologist or allergist. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to schedule frequent visits (at least every three months; more often if things aren’t going well). Asthma symptoms frequently change over time, and these visits allow us to monitor your child’s symptoms, increase medications when needed, and–even better–decrease or stop them when symptoms improve.
- Education: This is what we’re doing right now, but it’s also what your doctor should be doing at every visit. It’s crucial for parents of children with asthma to understand the disease and how it’s treated. We review how to properly administer medications, which inhalers to use and when to use them, and how to recognize worsening symptoms. This education may be provided by the doctor, a nurse, a respiratory therapist, or an asthma educator–but it’s crucial that somebody does it. Another key part of education is a written Asthma Action Plan, which gives parents a road-map to treating asthma whether it’s a good day or a bad one.
- Controlling Environmental Factors and Comorbid Conditions: I touched on “comorbid conditions” (other conditions that tend to be found in children with asthma) in my last post. Properly addressing these conditions as well as removing potential triggers from the child’s environment play a huge role in improving asthma symptoms. In fact, it’s not uncommon for children to go from needing one or more daily medications to being medication-free just by making a few changes.
- Medications: This is what most people jump to when they think about asthma treatment. But I don’t think it’s by accident that medications are listed last. One of the points I try to make to parents (and readers) is that every treatment we provide comes with potential risks as well. This goes for conventional medications and alternative treatments alike. This is why environmental controls are so important; while there may be some financial or emotional tradeoffs to replacing carpets, getting rid of stuffed animals, or finding a new home for the family pet, none of these interventions place your child’s health at risk. By starting with the non-medication aspects of asthma management, we can improve symptoms while reducing the need for asthma medications. Not a bad deal.
What can trigger an asthma attack?
There are many things that can trigger an asthma attack. Some things you can do are:
- Don’t smoke around your child, and keep your house and car smoke free.
- If possible remove carpet and replace with hard wood floors
- Remove stuffed animals and curtains from the child’s room, also use an allergen reducing mattress pad on their beds.
- Vacuum frequently
- Change air filter frequently
- Check house for mold and mildew
- Pets could be a cause, keeping them out of the child’s room is important. -3
Exercise and physical activities should not be prohibited from children whose asthma is well maintained. According to Dr. Hayes, a child with maintained asthma should be able to do everything a child with out asthma can, if they are having problems “being a kid” talk to your healthcare provider about other options you can take. -3
We can not give specific medical advice, if you have a specific medical question please contact your health care provider!
More from Bellies Babies and Beyond:
1-“Asthma.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 May 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
2-Hayes, Chad. “What’s That Wheeze? Identifying Asthma.” Chad Hayes MD. N.p., 28 July 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
3-Hayes, Chad. “Breathing Better: The Parent’s Guide to Asthma Management.”Chad Hayes MD. Chad Hayes MD, 29 July 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.