If your child has asthma, you might have a lot of questions. You might worry about the health risks. What if your daughter has an asthma attack and you’re not there to help? Or you might focus on the long-term impact of asthma in children -- will life with asthma make your son feel stigmatized? Will the drugs he takes affect his growth?
Your child’s doctor is a vital resource for all your questions about asthma in children. Yet it’s easy to forget the important things when you’re in the doctor’s office. Here’s a list of key questions to ask about asthma in children. Print it and bring it to your child’s next doctor’s appointment.
What does it mean that my child has asthma? When your child is diagnosed with asthma, don’t make assumptions. Whatever you know about asthma may not apply to your child. Many experts say that asthma is a spectrum, not a single disease, and asthma in children is often quite different from asthma in adults. So don’t settle for a general diagnosis. Get the specifics about your child’s condition.
What changes should I make at home to control my child’s asthma symptoms? One of the best ways to control your child’s symptoms is to control her environment. By reducing exposure to items that trigger asthma symptoms, such as dust and mold, you can reduce them. Ask the doctor for tips on simple fixes at home.
Does my child need allergy testing? Allergy testing is a way of finding out which specific allergens might be causing your child’s symptoms. It’s not fool-proof, and often addressing the most common triggers will improve your child’s symptoms. But if making the usual adjustments gets you nowhere, allergy testing might give you a better sense of what potential allergens your child needs to avoid.
What asthma drugs will my child need and why? If your child’s doctor recommends medicine, get the details. Why is your doctor choosing this particular drug to treat asthma in children? What are the side effects and risks? How is this asthma medicine used and how often will your child need to take it? Is it daily or only needed during flare-ups? A common concern among parents who hear that their child will need to take inhaled steroids to control his asthma is their effect on growth. The consensus among experts is that daily inhaled steroid use causes a small decrease in growth during the first year of treatment, but that this difference disappears in subsequent years.
Is it safe for my child to play sports? In the old days, kids with asthma were told to sit on the sidelines. Today, sports are usually recommended for children with asthma because exercise and strengthen lung muscles and reduce asthma symptoms and long-term lung function. Still, because some activities might be more likely to trigger asthma flare-ups, it’s best to first talk with a doctor about child’s sports activities. It is often helpful for a child with asthma to use an albuterol inhaler before practicing or competing. This can minimize the effect of exercise on asthma and is better than waiting for the coughing to start after the activity ends.
Can my child get a pet -- or can we keep the pet we already own? While pets can add so much to a child’s life, many -- especially cats, dogs, and birds -- are common allergic triggers. Always consult your child’s doctor before getting a pet. Your doctor might suggest allergy testing or controlled exposure first. If you already have a pet at home, have an honest discussion with your doctor about the risks.
What should I expect from treatment for my child? Put your mind at ease by asking questions about what happens next and beyond. How often will your child need check-ups? If her symptoms don’t get better with this treatment, what will you try next? Could your child outgrow asthma someday?
How should I talk to my child about asthma? Discussing asthma with a child may not be easy. Some children find the subject confusing or frightening. Others are resentful of their treatment and, thus, resentful of their parents. Your doctor should have advice on how to build a more open and trusting relationship regarding your child’s asthma care.
How should I talk to people at my child’s school about asthma? It’s important that your child’s teachers, coaches, and school nurses know about his or her asthma. Talk to your doctor about the best way to handle these discussions. Make sure that your child has an “asthma action plan” and the proper medication at school. Ask your child’s doctor to help you personalize this plan based on your child’s asthma and treatment.
How can I protect my child from being stigmatized because of asthma? Some children feel like their asthma marks them as different, that they get treated unfairly by other kids -- and often adults. So talk to your doctor about ways to build your child’s self-confidence and prevent her from feeling stigmatized.
What are the signs of an asthma emergency in children? Be sure you know the warning signs of an asthma attack. Ask your child’s doctor to help you come up with an asthma action plan. This plan will give you step-by-step instructions on how to evaluate symptoms and when to get help.
Where else can I find support? Having a child with asthma may leave you feeling afraid and isolated. Ask the doctor about local support groups for the parents and children with asthma. These groups help you meet other people coping with the same anxieties and daily hassles. Support groups can also give your child a chance to see other kids who have asthma -- and that can make a huge difference in how children view themselves and their condition.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & and Immunology web site, “Should Asthma Not be Considered a Disease?”
American Academy of Family Physicians FamilyDoctor.org web site, “Asthma and school.”
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology web site, “Advice from Your Allergist...Pet Allergy.”
American Lung Association web site, “Asthma Action Plan.”
American Medical Association, Essential Guide to Asthma, 1998.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. 2007.”