According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, there are almost 5 million children who suffer from asthma. This means that 1 in 20 children is living with asthma. Asthma ranks as the third highest cause of hospital stays for children, and the number one reason children miss school. These statistics are frightening. No one, especially a child, should have to face such unfair health obstacles.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition of the respiratory system. It is treatable, but not curable. It is characterized by a narrowing of the airways that bring air in and out of the lungs. For asthma-sufferers, the airways are lined with tissue that is constantly inflamed, even when a person with asthma isn't under distress. Because of the airway inflammation, the tissue is more susceptible to pollutants. So, when an asthma-sufferer breathes in a pollutant, an asthma attack occurs. During an asthma attack the airways contract and become very narrow, allowing less air to enter the lungs. Mucus can also begin to fill the airways when an asthma trigger is present, which also prevents air from easily passing. The common symptoms of an asthma attack are wheezing, shortness of breath, tightening of the chest, and coughing.
The best treatment for your child's asthma is to take it seriously by learning all you can from your doctor and research. Then, help your child avoid asthma attacks by:
- Identifying and eliminating the triggers in your environment that can cause an asthma attack.
- Using the correct methods to clean and sanitize your home (i.e. no chemical cleaning).
- Using preventative and treatment medications.
Asthma triggers and symptoms vary from person to person. The following factors are the most common triggers that can contribute to an asthma attack:
- Cockroaches (feces and saliva)
- Dust mites (body parts and feces)
- Molds (present in soil, leaves, wood, or in other plant debris; can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods)
- Pet Dander (skin cells) and animal hair, saliva, wastes, feathers
- Chemicals (from cleaning products, furniture and carpet glues, perfumes, air fresheners, etc)
- Particles (dust, dirt, and debris)
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) (like formaldehyde)
It is important to become aware of the asthma triggers present in your indoor environment. By carefully evaluating your home for asthma triggers, you can better control your child's asthma and better avoid preventable asthma attacks.
Tools to Fight Asthma
The first step in prevention is to be aware of what elements you have the power to change and what tools can help you do that.
- Air Purifiers- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed indoor air pollution as "a high priority public health risk." Air pollution, whether it is from allergens or chemicals, is a serious threat to asthma-sufferers. Therefore, it is crucial to keep your air as clean as possible. Air purifiers for asthma, particularly those with HEPA technology, can trap 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns and larger. These air cleaners filter both large and small particles. Multiple chemical sensitivity air purifiers can also filter the air of chemicals, gases, and smoke.
- Steam Cleaners- Whether you have a new born baby suffering with asthma or children with this condition, chemical cleaners pose a very dangerous threat. It would be ideal to remove all chemicals from your home, but this is nearly impossible, so minimizing their presence is the next best thing. Using a steam cleaner that sanitizes and cleans simultaneously will ensure that you are truly cleaning your home, not just covering surface issues with harsh chemicals. Steam cleaners can be used to clean upholstery and fabrics, hardwoods and tile flooring, children's toys, high chairs and booster seats, and much more. The best part of these machines is that they only use tap water and absolutely no chemicals.
- Peak Flow Meters- After a thorough discussion with your pediatrician, consider investing in a peak flow meter. These instruments display how much air your child can dispel from his/her lungs with each breath. Children can usually begin using these around age 5. By taking a reading of your child's peak flow level 3 times a day each day (for at least a 30-day period), you can begin to see a pattern (or become more aware of the triggers) of your child's asthma attacks. Keeping an accurate journal of your child's peak flow readings and attacks can also help you to map out an action plan to better manage his or her asthma. Peak flows are at their lowest right before an asthma attack. By knowing when the low peaks are, you can be ready with preventative medicine or treatment so an asthma attack doesn't become severe.
- Action Plan- It is important to have an action plan for dealing with asthma outside of your home.
- School- There are a few simple, but crucial, steps to follow when you send you child off to school to help keep their asthma symptoms under control. First, provide the school, specifically your child's teacher, with detailed information, including:
- The common asthma symptoms to be aware of.
- Medications that should be taken, with specific instructions of when to administer the medicine and in what dosage.
- A peak flow meter, if possible, and a record of your child's highest and lowest peak readings. In the event of an asthma attack, this may help them determine the severity of the symptoms and if emergency medical attention is needed.
- Emergency contact numbers, which should include you, your pediatrician, and a secondary adult who could be called if needed.
- Exercising- It is estimated that exercise induced asthma (EIA) affects about 40%-90% of children with asthma. Kids are active, and there is no reason asthma should hold them back from participating in sports or simply playing. Consider the following items when dealing with your child's EIA:
- Exercise indoors where asthma triggers can be better controlled.
- Avoid exercising in very cold or dry weather.
- Always warm up before participating in demanding sports or other physical activities.
- Begin with sports that are not as taxing on the respiratory system, such as gymnastics, swimming, walking, or biking.
- Build up to more physically demanding sports slowly.
- Keep medication close by in case of an asthma attack.
- After an asthma attack, return to physical activity at a slower pace. Don't rush your body into strenuous activity too soon.
Consistency Is Key
If you develop an action plan, understand how asthma affects your child's daily life (through peak meter readings), and eliminate as many asthma triggers as possible. You and your child will both breathe easier. Remember to be consistent with how you deal with your child's asthma symptoms. Also, be aware of the ever-changing elements in your environment, particularly the daily pollution level and pollen count. Asthma is a lifelong battle for most sufferers, but it doesn't have to be a losing one.
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