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Controlling your child's asthma

Asthma is a serious disease, but it can be controlled.

Here's a truth to hold on to if you've recently learned that your child has asthma: While this disease will certainly affect your child, it need not limit your child.

Asthma can't be cured, but it can be controlled. This means that most of the children in this country who have asthma can do the same things that other children do, including playing outdoors or participating in sports. With proper treatment, your child can lead a normal, active life.

None of this implies that asthma isn't a serious disease. When it's poorly managed, asthma can result in trips to the emergency room and hospital stays. It may also mean missed workdays for you. A severe asthma attack can even be life-threatening. This is why it's crucial for you to work closely with your child's doctor so that your child's asthma is well-controlled.

Individualized treatment

Asthma is a complicated disease that can affect children in very different ways. Consequently, your child's doctor will create a personalized asthma management plan for your child.

Among other things, this plan will spell out what medicines your child should take and when and how to increase the doses. It's wise to share this plan with anyone who cares for your child, including school staff.

By closely following your child's asthma management plan, you can help protect your child from a severe asthma attack.

Asthma medications

A variety of medications can be used to help control asthma. The medications your doctor prescribes will depend on your child's individual needs. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, medications generally fall into two categories: quick relief and controller.

Quick-relief medications. If your child wheezes, coughs or has other asthma symptoms only occasionally, the doctor will probably prescribe a quick-relief inhaled medicine such as albuterol. This medicine opens up narrowed airways that make symptoms flare up. Its purpose is to stop an asthma attack in progress.

However, if being physically active brings on symptoms in your child, quick-relief medicine can also be used to help keep an attack from ever happening, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Controller medication. If your child has symptoms more than two times a week—or wakes up at night with symptoms more than twice a month—the doctor will probably prescribe controller medicine in addition to quick-relief medicine, according to the AAP.

Unlike quick-relief medicines, which are taken only as needed, controller medicines must be taken every day. They work by helping to prevent inflammation in your child's airways, which can reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. The most common type of controller medicine is an inhaled steroid.

Inhaled steroids are very effective if taken regularly. But they often fail because children don't take them consistently, according to the AAP.

Avoid allergy triggers

In addition to taking medicine exactly as prescribed, your child also needs to try to stay away from things that may bring on an asthma attack. Cigarette smoke is a common trigger, so you'll want to help your child avoid it. Don't allow anyone to smoke in your home or car.

It's also important to avoid allergens. Allergens that commonly trigger asthma include:

  • Dust. Help minimize your child's exposure to dust by keeping him or her out of rooms while you're vacuuming carpets and dusting furniture. Consider investing in a special air filter—called a high-efficiency particulate air filter, or HEPA—to keep your child's room clean. Also, wash sheets, blankets, pillows, throw rugs and stuffed animals every one or two weeks in hot water to kill dust mites.
  • Mold. Prevent mold growth by repairing leaky plumbing and keeping the humidity in your house below 50%.
  • Cats or dogs. Consider finding furry pets a new home. Or at least keep pets out of your child's bedroom.

Know when to seek help

Always call your doctor for advice if your child doesn't respond to quick-relief medication, the AAP advises.

Also call your doctor or consider going to the emergency room immediately if your child has severe wheezing, can't speak, is vomiting and can't take asthma medication by mouth, or if his or her lips turn blue.

Reviewed 11/2/2022

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