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Help With Asthma

How To Treat Asthma

Childhood asthma is not a disorder or a handicap; it is a treatable illness that affects about 4 million children in the United States alone.

Children who have asthma can function just as normally as those who do not, as long as certain precautions are taken. Asthma can be treated, controlled and kept at bay when various guidelines are followed, according to Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. Once identified, these guidelines can help both children who suffer from asthma -- and their parents -- breathe a little easier.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that causes the airways in the lungs to become narrow when they respond to various substances. As the airways narrow, it becomes difficult for a person to breathe or "catch his breath." As a result, the child may hunch over, arch his back, wheeze, cough or grasp at his/her chest in an attempt to get more air into their lungs. As a result of the inability to breathe, children may become scared and may panic, resulting in an increased difficulty to breathe. It is a horrifying -- and sometimes fatal -- experience.

According to Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, asthma is the leading cause of chronic illness in childhood. It is estimated to occur in 5 percent to 10 percent of children at some time during their development. Prior to puberty, twice as many boys as girls have or develop asthma, and asthma is 10 times more likely to occur in inner city African American children then Latinos or Caucasians.

When Can Asthma Strike?

Asthma can strike at any age but most often starts in childhood, according to Mount Sinai Hospital. One of the most common early indications of childhood asthma is the presence of frequent chest colds. If a child has frequent chest colds, parents should seek testing for asthma as an early diagnosis, which can prevent complications and attacks from occurring. Testing includes a family history to inquire about relatives who suffer from asthma as well as a medical questionnaire that asks about nighttime cough, episodes of shortness of breath as well as how much exercise or activity a child can participate in before losing his/her breath. These questions are more easily answered if parents begin keeping a log or journal related to any breathing problems as soon as asthma is suspected.

"My youngest daughter has asthma -- she's 4 years old," says Yvette De Luca, of Phoenix. "When she was six months old I noticed her wheezing and having breathing difficulties. I suspected asthma because of family history. (Her asthma) is triggered by pollution, dust, exercise, smoke and milk. Even though she has exercise-induced asthma, I don't limit her activities. If she seems wheezy or is coughing, I will make her do a breathing treatment before going outside to play."

Coping With a Child That Has Asthma

Once a diagnosis of asthma is given, parents should not attempt to protect or shield their child from going outside or playing with other children, according to Mount Sinai. Instead, attempting to identify a child's "triggers" to limit the number of asthma attacks or episodes of shortness of breath will more beneficial. Triggers are simply what make a child's asthma symptoms occur -- such as sneezing, coughing, wheezing or losing their breath. As each trigger is different for each child, parents need to identify what their child's triggers are and attempt to remove them from the home as much as possible.

"The worst [triggers] are cigarette smoke and cockroaches," says Dr. Gabriel Aljadeff, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital. "Some of the other common triggers include mold, dust mites and animal dander -- the tiny flakes in the hair of cats and other pets."

Removing a child's triggers may be as simple as finding a new home for the pet or removing old carpeting and replacing it with hardwood flooring. However, often a child's trigger may be something that cannot be removed.

"Many causes are hard to avoid," says Aljadeff. "Cold air, dust and exercise can all be problems. But children with asthma can lead normal lives if they and their parents follow the doctor's orders."

In addition to identifying what causes or escalates an asthma attack, parents also can teach their children what to do if one occurs. Often a child's first response is to panic. As panicking can give way to an attack, parents can help their child learn ways to stay calm, think the situation through and avoid an attack from worsening, Mount Sinai recommends. Keeping asthma medications where a child can find them as well as ensuring they know the proper way to do use them will also help a child keep calm when an asthma attack occurs.

Management of Childhood Asthma

For the control or management of childhood asthma, a child's doctor will usually prescribe medication to control the symptoms as well as an "inhaler" to lesson the effects of an attack. These medications do not "cure" asthma, but instead allow a child to function on a more "normal" level. These medications will assist a child in feeling better and breathing better while allowing them to focus their attention on more important things -- like kickball. However, children should be instructed to listen to their bodies and know their triggers to prevent potentially dangerous or life-threatening situations from happening.

"Parents need to take asthma very seriously. It can be a deadly disease," De Luca says. "Children need to be taught to listen to their body and pay attention to symptoms and triggers. But at the same time, they can still do the things they want to -- as long as they take their meds and monitor their breathing. Parents need to remember that asthma can have an impact on the child's self-esteem. A child with asthma feels different from everyone else -- but really, they're not."

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