Asthma is a chronic obstructive disease that affects an individual’s ability to breathe. It involves an inflammatory reaction in the lungs. When they are irritated, the airways tighten, as do the muscles in the chest. The lining of the lungs swells and an increase in mucus production can add to the factors making it difficult to breathe.
Asthma can be controlled using inhaled drugs like Advair but it can still be necessary to adapt aspects of lifestyle to reduce the risk of serious attacks. This can be particularly difficult for children who want to be able to do all the same things as their friends. Helping a child to live with asthma involves finding the right approach to social and schooling issues, as well as medical ones.
The impact of childhood asthma
Even if it doesn’t develop until adulthood, asthma is always more difficult to manage when it’s new, as each individual case varies and people need to work out what approach to managing it works for them. This is especially difficult for a child, who might find monitoring symptoms difficult and might not report them accurately. During the adjustment period there may be days or weeks at a time when the sufferer has to stay in hospital or at home, with reduced physical activity. Missing school like this can set back a child’s education to the point where it’s difficult to catch up.
Managing play in children with asthma is also difficult, especially if they are not mature enough to be relied upon to remember or use inhalers properly. Ensuring that they always have adult supervision makes them safer but can damage their natural social development.
Many children love to participate in sport. It’s important to general health, and if a child with asthma can stay fit and strong, attacks can be less dangerous. Sporting activity can trigger attacks, however, and some children are forced to give up sports they enjoy. If they’re frightened by their experience of attacks, they may also withdraw from physical activities even if it is possible to manage them safely.
Helping children with asthma
Helping children to cope with asthma begins with talking to them and listening to their concerns. They’re more likely to behave responsibly if they feel involved in decisions about their treatment. The first thing to do is to make sure they’re taking preventative medication properly and controlling their asthma effectively, reducing the risk of attacks. The second is to make sure they recognise their individual asthma triggers—things like dust, pollen or pet hair—so that they can avoid them where possible and be prepared in situations where they’re not.
Working closely with a child’s school is also important. Making sure that teachers are aware of the situation not only means that help will be available if something goes wrong, it means children can more safely push boundaries and take part in physical activities. Swimming can be a good exercise and play option, as warm moist air makes breathing easier for many affected children.
The good news about childhood asthma is that it often gets milder as time passes. The important thing is to make sure that children don’t miss out too much in the meantime.