Learn how to deal with childhood asthma

Imagine someone, probably more than half your weight, standing on your chest while you try to breathe.

And then you try to breathe, but it feels like all the air you take in is actually getting blocked halfway to your lungs. Sitting up might make you feel better because the constriction in your chest decreases, but that doesn’t mean the air supply increases either.  That’s what it feels like to have an asthmatic attack.  Imagine you didn’t know the words to describe what you’re feeling.  That’s what it feels to be a two-year-old with an asthmatic attack.

As a parent and primary caregiver, responsible for your family’s wellbeing, asthma is something that hits you hardest where it hurts, more so when the patient is your child. The only possible way of dealing with asthma is to learn about this disease so that your child stays healthy and happy while living with asthma.

According to a report by Dr Swati Bhave, National Coordinator IAP Asthma Awareness Program, there is no representative national data on the number of children suffering from asthma in India simply because of vastly variable factors like climate, pollution levels and population density.  However, as reports from the United Kingdom go, there are approximately 1.1 million children under treatment for asthma in the country today; this means 1 child in every 11 is prone to wheezing.

Asthma can be blamed on a whole hoard of factors, whether genetic or allergic from pollen to second-hand smoke, but the fact remains that asthma is here to stay and the number of children living with it is only increasing with each passing year.  Whatever the trigger may be, there’s no shortcut to living with asthma. Although there is no known ‘cure’ to asthma yet, what does exist are numerous methods of controlling that asthmatic attack.

Recognising that your child is probably suffering from an asthmatic attack is the first step towards making the whole episode easier to handle.  Instead of something as clear as a runny nose in someone with an allergic attack, asthma is usually more apparent with difficulty in breathing normally because of narrowed bronchial tubes in the lungs.  While as an adult it’s simple enough to identify wheezing with the accompanying whistling sound on every breath one takes; a chronic cough, however, that increases with activity or just simply goes on more often at night in a child is probably more symbolic of an asthmatic attack.

Responding to an asthma attack, as quick as you sense one come along, ultimately is the best treatment. Most instances of untreated asthma are the ones that lead to missed school, a huge limitation to activities and ultimately hospital visits.  Dr Spock’s Essential Parenting Book talks of how children with mild asthma may need treatment just once in a while for brief periods of time, whereas those with persistent asthma would potentially need treatment every day irrespective of whether they are wheezing or not.  

From homeopathy to Ayurveda, treatment of asthma now has a much wider range of options than ever before.  Conventionally, however, a combination of bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories is used to treat an asthmatic attack.  While syrup or tablets would probably suffice initially, a full-blown wheeze might mandate nebulizer treatment or a spray “puffer” to treat it.  

Watching your child deal with asthma growing up is painful so the earlier the treatment, the more effective it is in the long term. Chances are that many children with asthma grow out of it, but a few tend to carry it through adulthood, controlled with medication.
Here are three quick signs to show you your child’s asthma attack is getting worse and might need a visit to the hospital:

- Wheezing and coughing gets worse with exercise or even mild activity.
- The cough starts first thing in the morning and gets progressively worse at night, often waking the child up.
- The inhaler or medication provided for at-home relief seems to have less of an effect.
Reacting to the onset of asthma in your family with positive lifestyle changes goes a long way in living with asthma. Keep the house clean and free from dust, mites and pet dander as much as possible. Try and prevent exposure to second-hand smoke and pollution as much as possible. Choose a school in an area with less traffic if you can. 

Always keep an eye out for allergies and trigger foods, environments, colds and viral infections or undue stress.  If possible, get an allergy test done to see what kind of pollen or food could potentially bring on an asthmatic attack.  Make sure you inform your child’s nursery or school about his predisposition to asthma. Learn how to recognise when an asthmatic attack comes on and treat it effectively.

More than anything, remember that asthma is never a life-threatening disease if dealt with properly, and life with asthma is normal and easy as long as you manage to recognise and avoid primary triggers, deal with symptoms, and essentially live a healthier more peaceful way of life.

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