(ARA) – “Mommy, I can’t breathe!” These are words no parent wants to hear. But parents of children with asthma know all too well the panic both they and their children experience during an acute asthma attack. People who don’t have personal experience with asthma tend to underestimate the seriousness of the condition. According to the American Lung Association, asthma is the most common chronic illness in children in the United States, affecting more than 6 million kids under the age of 18. In addition, asthma in children is the cause of almost 3 million physician visits and 200,000 hospitalizations each year — asthma is a serious medical condition — asthma can and does kill!In an asthma attack, the child’s airways clamp down in response to environmental triggers that include cold air, viruses, smoke, exercise, dust mites and the dander of furry pets. “The lining of the air passages become inflamed and swollen and increased mucus production blocks the passage of air into the lungs,” said Karen Warman, MD, director of the Children’s Asthma Program at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. “To get an idea of what an asthma attack feels like, picture sucking a full breath of air through a tiny straw — as hard as you try, you just can’t get enough air to fill your lungs.”
If you think your child may have asthma, speak to your physician. Keep a watch for symptoms that include:
* Persistent nighttime coughing
* Shortness of breath and/or coughing when running and playing
* Coughing when around animals, dust and cigarette smoke
“While asthma can’t be cured and children don’t outgrow it, it can be treated and controlled so that a child can participate in normal childhood activities,” said Dr. Warman during an appearance on the Emmy-nominated public television show “Keeping Kids Healthy.”
There are two types of asthma — mild and persistent. Mild asthma affects a child only when he or she has a cold or encounters something that triggers it. Persistent asthma is an ongoing irritation of the lungs that requires daily medication. Asthma medication helps keep the lungs and airways relaxed, prevents them from clamping down and hopefully stops an attack from occurring. A second type of medication, called rescue medication, is used during an attack to quickly open airways.
Families of children with persistent asthma also need to take steps to deal with the child’s environment. “You need to eliminate the things that are triggering the attacks,” said Dr. Warman. “Get rid of dust, pet dander, cigarette smoke and other irritants in your home. Your doctor may suggest having your child examined by a pulmonologist to treat the asthma or an allergy specialist to find out exactly what is aggravating the asthma.”
Another important tool in dealing with childhood asthma is called an “asthma action plan.” This is a written management plan that includes detailed information about your child’s condition, specific triggers and medication, as well as what to do in case of an asthma attack. An asthma action plan form is available on the Keeping Kids Healthy Web site — www.keepingkidshealthy.org. “The asthma action plan is a family’s guide to dealing with asthma,” said Dr. Warman. “Parents should make sure they discuss this plan with their child’s doctor and that they understand it so they can help educate their child and others about the disease.”
“The plan also is a handy reminder regarding daily medications,” said Dr. Warman. “It should be shared with everyone who needs to know how to deal with the child’s asthma, including babysitters, teachers, coaches, family members and even the parents of the child’s friends.”
When your child has an asthma attack, the first thing to remember is to stay calm, because this will help your child stay calm. Refer to your action plan, which will have information on which rescue medications to administer during an asthma attack. Don’t rely on your memory — even though you may know your child’s medication plan, in the heat of an attack you may not remember all the details. If the rescue medications do not work, call 911 and get your child to the emergency room for treatment.
Dealing with childhood asthma may seem daunting, but the more you can learn, the easier it will be. Work with your child’s doctor and other health care professionals to get as much information as possible so both you and your child understand what triggers an asthma attack and are confident that you know what to do in an emergency.
Produced by Montefiore Medical Center in association with Thirteen/WNET New York, “Keeping Kids Healthy” is a groundbreaking weekly children’s health television show that examines real-life issues that kids, teens and parents face. This Parents’ Choice Foundation Award-winning show brings parents and children who are living with a particular medical issue every day, together with nationally recognized medical experts who offer practical advice and tips. Check with your local public television station for airdates and times or visit www.keepingkidshealthy.org.
Courtesy of ARA Content