May is Asthma Awareness Month: A review of the basics

May is “National Asthma Awareness Month,” and with more than 23 million Americans diagnosed with asthma, and 7 million children affected, it’s imperative for parents to take control of their children’s asthma management.

While asthma is serious, and can be life-threatening, it can be controlled through medical treatment and the identification of environmental triggers.

Health care provider goes over asthma plan with boy and mother.

Keeping a close relationship with your health care provider will allow you to manage your child’s asthma symptoms and triggers, not react to them.

“Parents not only need to be their children’s health advocate, but also their environmental advocate,” said Rebecca Burns, M.S.N., RN, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing. Burns is an expert in pediatric studies and practice, and is experienced in clinical respiratory management. “You might be surprised by the amount of triggers in your own home.”

All parents of children with asthma should have an Asthma Action Plan (AAP). An AAP (also called a management plan) is a written plan that you develop with your doctor to help control your asthma. The AAP shows your child’s daily treatment, such as what kind of medicines to take and when to take them. The plan describes how to control asthma long term and how to handle worsening asthma, or attacks. Most importantly, it explains when to call the doctor or go to the emergency room.

In addition to eliminating triggers, Burns explains that it is necessary to follow medication instructions exactly as they are prescribed. Children should be supervised and educated to ensure they use them properly. If your child has asthma, all of the people who care for him or her should know about the child’s asthma action plan. These caregivers include babysitters and workers at daycare centers, schools and camps. These caretakers can help your child follow his or her action plan.

There are two main types of treatment for asthma: a rescue inhaler or maintenance therapy that includes two inhaled medications, a steroid and a beta-agonist. Though significant lifestyle changes are unnecessary, when proper medication and environmental management are combined, asthma patients can live healthy, active lifestyles.

“If your child is diagnosed with asthma, work closely with the physician to learn what triggers the attacks,” said Burns. “You can’t just give your child medication and expect to see results; you must manage the treatment and the triggers.”

Triggers can be categorized by allergens and irritants. Allergens can be animal dander, dust mites, cockroaches, indoor mold, pollen and outdoor molds. Keeping furry and feathered friends out of your home, as well as keeping your home clean and well maintained (fix leaky faucets and use a cleaner with bleach for moldy surfaces) can help reduce indoor allergens.

“If you live in an area with particularly high pollen and outdoor mold, like here in the Brazos Valley, try to keep your windows closed from late morning to midafternoon if possible because this is when pollen and mold spore counts are highest,” explained Burns. “Also, discuss with your child’s doctor whether you should take or increase anti-inflammatory medications before the start of your area’s allergy season.”

Burns also suggests avoiding trigger irritants like tobacco smoke and strong odors. If you smoke, discuss with your own doctor how to help you quit and ask other smokers in your family to quit smoking also. Do not allow smoking in your home or car, or other places your child might spend time. Avoid using fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, or strongly perfumed odors and sprays within your house.

“Essentially, you want to manage your child’s symptoms, not react to them,” said Burns. “Keeping a close relationship with your health care provider and being vigilant about your child’s environment can help keep triggers at bay and your child active and healthy.”

For more information about Asthma Action Plan’s, please visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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