You’ve just been told that your child has asthma. The doctor has explained that with good medical control your child can live a normal life. And he has probably told you that treating asthma appropriately right from the start, and staying on top of it, are key to preventing long-term complications, such as permanent airway damage.
So what do you do now? Dr. Martha V. White, FAAAAI, director of research at the Institute for Asthma and Allergy in Washington, DC, outlines a plan of action for parents:
1. A proper diagnosis is vital. If possible, your child should see a physician who specializes in pediatric asthma. This can’t be emphasized enough, because asthma, particularly in young children, can be tough to diagnose. Ask your physician to recommend someone, and do your own research as well regarding physicians in your area.
When you find a physician, you’ll want to be sure that he or she is up-to-date on current guidelines for the treatment of pediatric asthma. How to do that? Simply ask if they are familiar with best practice information from either of the following documents that outline the standard of care for children with asthma:
- Expert Panel Report 2 of the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (from the National Institutes of Health);
- The Pediatric Asthma Guide, released in 1999 (endorsed by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)
If the physician isn’t familiar with either, give serious consideration to finding one who is. The treatment of asthma is changing rapidly as research yields new information about the causes and treatment — you want your child to have the best care possible. Children with identified allergies or difficult-to-treat asthma may need to be seen by a specialist in allergies as well — many physicians specialize in the treatment of both disorders. According to Dr. White, “Most young asthmatics are going to have allergies, although certainly not 100 percent.”
2. Now your child needs an action plan. Your physician will have already recommended a daily management plan, outlining medications and measures you and your child will take to keep his or her asthma under control. If your child is at least five years old, this plan should include the regular use of a spirometer, a simple-to-use instrument that provides an objective measure of your child’s breathing status.
In addition to the daily management plan, your child will need a written action plan, with specific instructions on what actions, including medications, to take when asthma worsens. This plan must also include very specific instructions about when to contact a physician, go to an urgent care center, or seek emergency care.
3. Last, but certainly not least, your child needs an abundance of guidance from parents and caregivers. A diagnosis of asthma may seem overwhelming, but taking things one step at a time will make the situation more manageable. Typical concerns of kids, particularly as they grow older, are their desire for independence and their need to fit in with their peers. Helping your child increase his or her responsibility for managing their disease will also help to increase your child’s self-esteem.
At the same time, it’s important to be alert to potential problems like social situations where your child might feel uncomfortable taking medications. Striking a balance between these two can be difficult, but with a good daily management plan and action plan, Dr. White believes most kids can be allowed to participate in most activities with their peers. She explained: “Many parents will raise that asthmatic or allergic child differently…because the kid has asthma, and that can cause dysfunctional family interactions,” she added.
Dr. White also believes that one mistake some parents make is to not take asthma seriously enough. But asthma interferes with a child’s ability to breathe and to oxygenate their blood, and it is a serious disease. On the other hand, some parents react by overly restricting their child’s activities and that’s not good either. “When you’re raising a child with asthma, everybody in the family potentially is walking on eggshells because they’re trying to not do something that’s going to then trigger that kid,” observed Dr. White.
“Ideally, what you want to do is just treat them to whatever extent is necessary so they can get out there and be normal.”
Sound like a tall order? It is. But it’s also very do-able, and well worth the effort.