Breathe Easy!  Asthma Advice is Here

Parents have been running out of breath asking me lots of questions about whether or not their child might have asthma.  Well let me see if I can help everyone breathe easier by providing some information on this topic.

Asthma affects two out of every ten students and is the number one reason why children miss school. What is it?  Asthma is a disease in which certain exposures – or triggers – such as exercise, colds, tobacco smoke, cold temperatures, dust, pollen and pets can make the insides of the airways in the lungs swollen and inflamed.

In each case, the inflammatory trigger narrows the airway resulting in coughing, a high-pitched wheezing noise, and tightness in the chest, making it difficult for your child to breathe.       

Who gets asthma?  Studies suggest it can run in families, and may depend on when and how often your child is exposed to potential triggers.  If you think your child has asthma, please have your child seen by his or her doctor who will listen to their lungs, perhaps measure how easily they can breathe out, make sure the wheezing is not due to something else such as a toy or food that went down the wrong pipe, and then try a medication given via a nebulizer or more likely inhaled through an inhaling device that will reduce the narrowing and improve breathing.  If wheezing persists, a steroid medication or other types of controller medications may be prescribed as well as instruction on how to better manage  the environmental triggers that make the wheezing worse.

If your child has asthma, it is important to let others know about it, particularly his teachers and the school nurse in case an episode occurs at school.  Your child's doctor will work with you to create an "asthma action plan" that can be shared at school so everyone knows what to do if your child starts to have trouble breathing.  It is also a great idea to have the teachers perhaps teach everyone in the class about asthma so they understand the problem and don't treat your child any differently just because they have a chronic illness that can affect their breathing.  

The good news is that by knowing about this illness and following the asthma action plan, your child will be able to participate in all activities, including sports, at school (they should use their asthma medication before playing a sport if exercise triggers an asthma episode) and at home and lead an otherwise normal life, just like their friends who do not have asthma.

Families can learn more about this disease through their pediatrician or the American Lung Association by calling 1-800 LUNG-USA or linking to www.lungusa.org.

Hopefully tips like these will be easy ones to wheeze through – I mean breeze through – when it comes to having a better understanding of what asthma is all about.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids