Asthma and Children
Children with asthma are sensitive to sudden temperature and humidity changes. When going outdoors during cold weather, the air inhaled may not warm or become humid enough as it passes through the warmth and humidity of the nose before it gets to the airways. Thus, the cold air entering the airways may trigger an asthma attack.
The majority of children with asthma have allergies. Even exposure to low-grade allergens (those that do not 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 (i.e., 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/her lifetime varies, depending on the child. For some children, asthma improves during the teenage years, while others have symptoms that become more severe over time. 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.
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 stretch before and after exercising, breathing 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 physician.
- 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 is important that the child, family, physician, 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 and special needs.
- Educate school personnel on your child's asthma medications and how to assist during an asthma attack.
- 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/her that asthma does not have to slow him/her down or make him/her different from the other children.
It is very important to be honest with your child about his/her disease, the severity of the disease, and the use of medications. Always remember as your child grows, independence is an important goal for a child. They do no want to be different, yet they will need guidance and supervision on any restrictions they might have.
This age group relies completely on the parents. They understand little about the disease. The most important factor with this age group is 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 restriction, and how to avoid their triggers. They should be allowed to play with peers and monitor their own symptoms.
Generally, adolescents resist having to take chronic medications, do not like having restrictions on their life, and do not want to be different. It is crucial to involve your adolescent in every aspect of the management of his/her asthma. He/she should help with goal setting and help decide which medications work best for him/her. Asthma "contracts" can be given to your adolescent child in order that he/she may have some control of his/her asthma, yet continue to allow overall parental supervision of his/her condition.
Having asthma does not have to mean having less fun than other adolescents. It is important for your adolescent child to tell his/her friends and dates what triggers the asthma, such as cigarette smoke or even perfumes or after-shaves, depending on his/her sensitivity. In addition, your adolescent child should continue taking the asthma medication as prescribed. If your adolescent child has exercise-induced asthma, he/she may need to take a preventive medicine before participating in any physical activities, such as dancing. Always consult your child's physician if you have questions.
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