Treating Asthma in Children
Acute severe asthmatic episodes (status asthmaticus) always requires medical attention. It is treated by providing oxygen along with high doses of the drugs used at home as well as some only given in the hospital. In the worst cases, it may require mechanical ventilation.
Fortunately, for most children, asthma can be well controlled. For many families, the learning process is the hardest part of controlling asthma. A child might have flares (asthma attacks) while learning to control asthma, but don't be surprised or discouraged. Asthma control can take time and energy to master, but it's worth the effort!
How long it takes to get asthma under control depends on the child's age, the severity of symptoms, how frequently flare-ups occur, and how willing and able the family is to follow a doctor's prescribed treatment plan. Every child with asthma needs a doctor-prescribed individualized asthma management plan to control symptoms and flare-ups. This plan usually has five parts.
The Five Parts to an Asthma Treatment Plan
Step 1 -- Identifying and Controlling Asthma Triggers
Children with asthma have different sets of triggers. Triggers are the factors that irritate the airways and cause asthma symptoms. Triggers can change seasonally and as a child grows older. Some common triggers are cigarette smoke, allergens like dust, dust mites, and pet dander, viral infections, irritants like strong perfumes, exercise, breathing cold air, and weather changes.
Identifying triggers and symptoms can take time. Keep a record of when symptoms occur and how long they last. Once patterns are discovered, some of the triggers can be avoided through environmental control measures, which are steps to reduce exposure to a child's allergy triggers. Talk with your doctor about starting with environmental control measures that will limit those allergens and irritants causing immediate problems for a child. Remember that allergies develop over time with continued exposure to allergens, so a child's asthma triggers may change over time.
Others who provide care for your child, such as babysitters, day care providers, or teachers must be informed and knowledgeable regarding your child's asthma treatment plan. Many schools have initiated programs for their staff to be educated about asthma and recognize severe asthma symptoms.
The following are suggested environmental control measures for different allergens and irritants:
To control dust mites:
- Use only polyester-filled pillows and comforters (never feather or down). Use mite-proof covers (available at allergy supply stores) over pillows and mattresses. Keep covers clean by vacuuming or wiping them down once a week.
- Wash your child's sheets and blankets once a week in very hot water (130 degrees or higher) to kill dust mites.
- Keep upholstered furniture, window mini-blinds, and carpeting out of a child's bedroom and playroom because they can collect dust and dust mites (especially carpets). Use washable throw rugs and curtains and wash them in hot water weekly. Vinyl window shades that can be wiped down can also be used.
- Dust and vacuum weekly. If possible, use a vacuum specially designed to collect and trap dust mites (with a HEPA filter).
- Reduce the number of dust-collecting houseplants, books, knickknacks, and non washable stuffed animals in your home.
- Avoid humidifiers when possible because moist air promotes dust mite infestation and mold growth.