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Managing Asthma

Dear Debi,
My 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son both have asthma. Can you give me some advice on how I can help manage their asthma and prevent attacks?
Nkechi Banks
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Observe & document
  • Reduce asthma triggers
  • Parents, medical providers & providers should work together
Expert Advice
Dr. Ron Ferdman
Dr. Ron Ferdman
Pediatrician & allergist
Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs – which means it lasts a long time – so usually the symptoms involve some sort of trouble breathing, which can come from coughing, exercise, sleeping at night, etc. It’s due to a combination of a swelling of the bronchial tubes of the lungs and the constriction of the airways. When these tubes get smaller, you start to get the symptoms of asthma. It’s a disease whose symptoms come and go, so one day you might feel just fine and the next day you might experience some symptoms of asthma.

There are different groups of things that can trigger asthma. The most common triggers for kids under the age of 5 are colds and upper-respiratory infections. Other common triggers are:
  • Exposure to irritants, which include pollutants, cigarette smoke, etc.
  • Exposure to allergens, such as pollen, cats, mites, etc.
  • Exercise – the majority of kids with asthma have at least a little exercise-induced asthma. However, we expect and encourage people with asthma to exercise while making sure that their asthma is controlled.
The difference between irritants and allergen is that allergens are specific to the person (like when someone is allergic to cats) while irritants affect everyone (like cigarette smoke).

A trigger is something that you either do or get exposed to that sets off your asthma – not that causes your asthma. The best way to determine what your child’s triggers are is through observation. Triggers will usually affect the asthma pretty quickly, within a few minutes to an hour. With exercise it would be right away. If you take note of when your child seems to experience asthma symptoms, you’ll soon be able to narrow it down to a few triggers. With babies, it’s a little harder to tell what their triggers could be, although the most common are a cough after a cold or a reaction to a food allergy.

There are two categories of asthma treatment: medication and non-medication. Most children with asthma, especially persistent asthma, should be on some sort of preventive/controller medicine every single day, not just when they get sick. They should also have an action plan on what to do if the child gets sick.

Non-medication treatment includes identifying as many triggers and trying to eliminate them from the environment. This includes pets, stuffed animals, dust, etc. It also includes implementing some things like eating a healthy diet and exercise. Any kind of exercise that involves running for prolonged periods of time can trigger asthma, while exercise such as swimming is great. We teach people how to read their bodies as well as give them medications to be able to control their asthma and be able to partake in almost all forms of exercise.
Caregiver Comments
Laura Moller-Leon
Laura Moller-Leon
Mother of two
Besides the medication, I try to keep my home dust-free. For instance, I don’t have a lot of stuffed animals around. The ones that I do have, I try to wash them twice a month. I wash the bedding in warm water very often. I try not to keep a lot of plants at home because they bring humidity and mold into the home. I clean the restroom frequently to avoid mold build-up. I always keep a window open – even during winter months. I try not to vacuum when they are home. We actually have a vacuum that is “heap-approved” that doesn’t release a lot of dust.
Sandra Dennis
Sandra Dennis
Grandmother of one
I had to educate my son and his wife on how to better care for their asthmatic daughter. It was very important that my son changed his clothes before handling the baby if he had been around smokers. He didn’t realize that the smoke was in his clothing. Changing his clothes really helped and we began to notice the difference it made with my granddaughter.
Verdis Ferraro
Verdis Ferraro
Child care provider for 23 years
When caring for children who have asthma, I will ask the parents what symptoms I should be looking for. What triggers are the parents aware of? What are their policies at home? Should I call them first or just give the child their treatments as needed? What type of activities will trigger the asthma? When does the parent advise the medications to be administered? I would also want a list of foods that may trigger the child’s asthma. If the child needs a special blanket or pillow, I will make sure that they bring one from home or I will provide one that is not allergenic. We vacuum and clean our center everyday to keep the environment very clean and healthy for an asthmatic child.

Asthma – An Action Plan Featured Activity:
Asthma – An Action Plan
Managing Asthma Featured Video:
Managing Asthma
Topic: Health & Safety
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