Asthma is a chronic (long-term) lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways making it difficult to breath. Currently in the United States, asthma affects 6.1 million children and is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism. Asthma is not preventable, but keeping it under control can help your child live a normal life.
Know Your Child’s Triggers
Avoiding things that trigger asthma symptoms in your child is one of the best ways to prevent a flare-up. Here are some common triggers and how to avoid them:
- Cold and flu can contribute to asthma symptoms, so be sure everyone in your family washes their hands, avoids contact with sick people and does not share food, drinks or utensils. It is strongly recommended that your child and all family members receive the flu vaccine every year.
- Exercise is important for all children, including those with asthma. If your child’s health care provider thinks it is needed, your child may benefit from a rescue inhaler before participating in an activity.
- Allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, pollen, mold/mildew, roach/mice droppings are irritating to many children with asthma. Follow these tips to reduce allergens in your home:
- Wash bed linens in hot water each week. Water temperature should be hotter than 130 degrees.
- Use special allergen cases for mattresses and pillows. These cases prevent allergens from reaching your child’s mattress or pillows.
- Use HEPA filters in your home.
- Wash pillows at least once a month.
- Keep pets out of your child’s bedroom, and if the pets remain in the home, make sure to bathe them weekly. All family member should wash their hands after handling or playing with pets.
- Use bedding made of synthetic materials. Avoid feather/down-filled comforters and pillows.
- Tile or hardwood floors are best. If it is not possible to remove carpeting, vacuum at least once a week.
- Use air conditioning instead of opening the windows.
- Clean any visible mold and keep the humidity level low in the home. Keep all bathrooms, kitchens and basements properly ventilated and clean. Stay out of damp and dusty basements and attics.
- Avoid having a large number of stuffed animals. Make sure they are machine washable or place them in an airtight container in the freezer for six hours once a week.
- Irritants including menthol vapor rubs, smoke/cigarette smoke, chemicals in the air (paint, car exhaust, smog, factory emissions), and aerosols (perfumes, cleaning products, hair spray) are common asthma triggers. Avoid smoke filled places and do not smoke or let anyone else smoke in your home or car. You should also use unscented liquid or solid bath soaps and hair products instead of sprays. When cooking, use a stove vent to get rid of any cooking fumes.
- Changes in weather from hot to cold, cold to hot, seasonal changes or rainy weather can cause some children to have an asthma flare-up. Watch the weather forecast for rain, humidity, pollen count and temperature changes. Make sure your child wears a scarf over his or her mouth and nose outside during very cold weather.
- Food and medication allergies can trigger an asthma flare-up. Shellfish and peanuts, aspirin and beta-blockers are some of the more common allergies. Avoid items that your child is allergic to by reading food and drug labels.
- Strong emotions like crying, stress and laughing can contribute to an asthma flare-up.
Take Medication as Prescribed
Asthma medications fall into one of two categories based up how they work:
- “Rescue,” or acute relief medications, work rapidly and used only if needed. Your child’s health care provider may also refer to these medications as bronchodilators.
- “Controller” medications are taken every day to prevent the majority of asthma episodes. If your child has frequent need for rescue medications, they may have controller medicines prescribed.
Have an Asthma Action Plan
An action plan is a written document specifically for managing your child’s asthma. When your child is having asthma symptoms, the action plan helps you and other caregivers know what to do. It indicates which medication to use, when to take them, how much to take and when to get help. Make sure to share your child’s asthma action plan with family, friends, babysitters, teachers, coaches and anyone else who is involved in the care of your child.
Asthma Resources at All Children’s Hospital
The pediatric pulmonologists at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine lead a collaborative asthma program aimed at reducing the rate of hospitalization for children with asthma. This program brings together hospital-based and community resources for families of asthmatic children.
A staff of four doctors and two nurse practitioners make up the core of the pulmonology team, providing outpatient clinic services at the All Children’s Outpatient Care centers located in Brandon, East Lake, Pasco, Sarasota, South Tampa, Tampa, and St. Petersburg.
All Children’s also provides inpatient asthma care that works closely with the Pediatric Emergency Room, Pediatric ICU and medical staff. A team of nurse educators works with each family to teach asthma care with audiovisual resources and face-to-face meetings.
Learn more about services offered at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Anthony Kriseman, M.D. is the director of pulmonology at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine. He joined All Children’s in 1990 after completing a pulmonary fellowship at Tulane University and pediatric residency at the University of South Florida. Dr. Kriseman completed medical school and internship training in Johannesburg, South Africa.