What to Do If Your Child Has Asthma

What to Do If Your Child Has Asthma

When kids wheeze, gasp and cough because of asthma, not only are they contending with a potentially life-threatening lack of air, they may also be faced with daily restrictions from many of the everyday pleasures of running, playing and just being a kid. Today, around 6.2 million children under age 18 have asthma—about one in every 12. It’s the number one reason for missed school days (in the U.S., in 2013, that total was 13.8 million!) and asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among children younger than 15.

Asthma basics
There are two kinds of asthma: allergic and non-allergic. Non-allergic asthma can be the result of repeated respiratory problems (exposure to air pollution, persistent mold, insect infestations and respiratory infections). Episodes may be triggered by exercise, hyperventilation, stress and cold or dry air. It usually occurs later in life.

Allergic asthma is what happens to kids. It occurs when the immune system overreacts to a trigger—or allergen—such as pet hair and dander, pollen, smoke or dust mites. Wheezing and coughing occurs as airways become swollen and produce mucus. No one is sure what causes allergic asthma, but the hyped-up immune response may develop following a respiratory infection or chronic exposure to air pollution or smoke. It can happen even before a child is born!

That’s right. Research is revealing that moms-to-be should be aware that their behavior during pregnancy can increase a child’s risk for asthma. One study from Norway indicated an association between mothers who took acetaminophen while pregnant and asthma in their kids at age three and at age seven. The study also found an association between prenatal use of ibuprofen and asthma in children at three years old.

In general, pregnant women should be aware that medications, air pollution and lifestyle habits, such as smoking, can end up making their child-to-be more likely to contend with asthma. In fact, a study in Pediatrics found kids with severe asthma are almost four times more likely to have been exposed to tobacco smoking before birth—even without later exposure—than children with a mild form of the disease.

Diagnosing children
If you suspect your child has asthma, take your child to see a doctor immediately. Make sure you tell your doctor about any family history of asthma and when exactly you noticed your child having trouble breathing—is it during daytime, nighttime, after eating, after exercise, after playing with a pet, etc.? Then your doctor should begin testing.

For the very young, lung function tests can be difficult, but an X-ray, white blood cell count and/or an allergy scratch test can provide answers pretty quickly.

Post-diagnosis and school
If you have a child with asthma, every babysitter, pre-school caretaker, teacher and school nurse should be made aware of the fact and know how to identify an attack if it happens. They also need to have a rescue inhaler on site and know how to use it. In special cases, or with severe allergic attacks, an Epi-Pen may be used; that too should be available, and all involved should be trained in when and how to use it.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has an educational toolkit on their website for parents and caregivers. It includes a Student Asthma Action Card that you can provide for your child’s school. The “card” is actually a PDF form that lets you provide emergency contact names and phone numbers. Also included is a step-by-step plan of what to do in case of an emergency along with a Daily Asthma Management Plan that will help everyone identify triggers.

If managed correctly, kids with asthma can lead a healthy life. David Beckham, Jackie Joyner Kersee and Greg Louganis are just three examples of kids with asthma who grew up to accomplish amazing thing and didn’t let asthma keep them from chasing down their dreams.

Medically reviewed in May 2018.

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