For children who live with asthma, symptoms like shortness of breath and coughing can interfere with school, play and sleep. As a parent, you play an important role in managing your child’s asthma and helping your child overcome the challenges it brings.
Knowing how to avoid triggers, manage symptoms and prepare for emergencies can help your child feel confident about managing their asthma in everyday life.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a disease that affects a person’s airways.
At times a child with asthma may breathe normally. At other times they may find it difficult to breathe, start coughing or wheezing and feel a tightness in their chest. This response is caused by the airways in the lungs tightening and becoming inflamed and swollen.
What causes asthma in children?
The cause of asthma is not fully understood by doctors. However, there are some factors which put a child at higher risk of developing asthma.
Children with a relative who has asthma are more at risk, as are children whose mother smoked during pregnancy. The risk also increases if the child is exposed to particular sensitising particles in the air.
How to manage asthma in children
There are many things to think about and do when you’re looking after a child with asthma. It’s important to work closely with your doctor and pharmacist to get the right healthcare plan and treatment. The more you understand about the nature of your child’s asthma, the better you can prevent attacks and prepare for emergencies.
Here are some important steps to take when looking after a child with asthma:
1. Visit the doctor regularly
Working closely with a healthcare team is essential. You should schedule regular visits with your doctor to review your child’s treatment. Your child’s asthma symptoms and needs may change overtime and it’s important that their treatment changes accordingly.
Your doctor can answer any questions you have, demonstrate how to use medication properly and help you feel confident about managing your child’s asthma.
2. Keep a diary of your child’s symptoms
A diary can help you and your doctor spot patterns and find more effective treatments or lifestyle changes. When your child experiences asthma symptoms, keep a record so that you can discuss it with your doctor at the next visit.
You should record when the symptoms occur, how bad they are and how long they last. Also record if the symptoms are worse when your child is exposed to certain triggers, such as cold weather, exercise, pet dander or dust. You can also take a video of your child’s coughing or wheezing for the doctor to see.
3. Create an asthma plan
Every child with asthma should have a written asthma plan which outlines what their known triggers are, their treatment plan and what to do in case of an emergency.
You should work with your healthcare team to create the treatment plan and keep it in an accessible place. Give a copy to the school nurse, sports coach, babysitter and any other adults which provide a caring role for your child.
4. Limit exposure to triggers
Asthma triggers are substances, conditions and activities that cause asthma symptoms in your child. Triggers can vary from person to person, and the asthma response can vary as well.
Common asthma triggers include:
- Cigarette smoke
- Air pollution
- Allergy triggers such as pet dander or dust
- Cold air
- Infections that affect the airways such as the flu
Understanding your child’s asthma triggers can help you avoid them as much as possible.
5. Equip yourself with the right medication and tools
Asthma medication for children can come in many types, depending on how old your child is and their needs. Some children take oral medication, others use ventolin inhalers (puffers).
There are two main types of asthma medication: relievers and inhibitors. Asthma relievers are used when the child is experiencing asthma symptoms. Inhibitor medication is used every day to reduce the sensitivity of your child’s airways over time.
You should have spare medication at home and any emergency medication that your doctor has prescribed. Talk with your child’s school about having an asthma emergency kit on hand.
6. Use an asthma spacer
An asthma spacer is used with a puffer to help direct the medicine to your child’s airways rather than coating their mouth. Using a puffer with a spacer is more effective and can reduce side effects from the medication.
Small children and babies may need a facemask in addition to a spacer. The facemask fits around the child’s nose and mouth to make sure the medicine doesn’t leak out.
7. Help your child use a peak flow meter
A child peak flow meter is a device that you can use to measure air flow out of your child’s lungs. This can help you spot narrowing of your child’s airways before asthma symptoms appear.
You can use a peak flow meter to help you decide things like when to call emergency medical help or whether you should give your child more medication according to their action plan. A peak flow meter can also help you keep track of your child’s asthma and find particular triggers.
8. Know what to do in an emergency
An asthma attack can turn into an asthma emergency, even if your child has not experienced a severe asthma attack before. Knowing how to spot the signs and when to call for emergency medical help could save your child’s life.
Your child’s asthma action plan should outline how to spot the signs of an asthma emergency and who to contact.
The signs of an asthma emergency include:
- Can’t breathe or finding it difficult to breathe
- Difficulty talking
- Blue lips
- Gets little or no relief from inhaler
- Symptoms quickly get worse
If your child is experiencing the symptoms of a severe asthma attack, you should call 000 immediately. The steps below explain how to provide first aid for an asthma attack.
- Sit your child upright.
- Give them 4 puffs on their reliever inhaler. They should take 4 breaths per puff.
- Wait 4 minutes. If the symptoms have not relieved, give them 4 more puffs of the reliever inhaler.
- Call 000 and tell the operator your child is having an asthma emergency.
- Continue giving them 4 puffs every 4 minutes until the ambulance arrives.
9. Empower your child to follow their asthma plan
Teaching your child the tools they need to manage their asthma and follow their action plan is an important part of the process. Giving your child an active role in their asthma management can help them to have a positive attitude about their condition and feel confident as they get older.