Some children suffer from asthma episodes during soccer practice. For others, their symptoms flare up in the middle of the night. Whether it happens during play or at rest, it’s difficult for parents to see their children coughing and struggling to breathe or speak.
These frightening symptoms of childhood asthma can be well controlled, but learning how to best partner with your pediatrician may require time, patience and a lot of good communication. You can help your doctor develop an effective “asthma action plan” with these five tips:
1. Keep detailed records
The best way to develop an effective treatment plan for your child is to come to appointments prepared to talk about your child’s progress, says John Carl, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
This means being ready to talk about:
- How many times your child has had wheezing episodes
- What triggered the onset of symptoms
- The number of office, urgent care or ER visits, and any hospital stays
- What preventive medications have been taken, and whether there have been problems with consistent dosing – whether it was interrupted either by yourself or changed by another doctor
- How often your child requires rescue medications for treatment of acute symptoms
2. Check your home environment for asthma triggers
Exposure to tobacco smoke before and after birth is a risk factor for childhood asthma. In addition to second-hand smoke, parents should look carefully around their home for anything that could trigger asthma symptoms, including:
- Furry pets – such as dogs, cats, guinea pigs and hamsters – can make it more difficult to control asthma
- Outdoor allergens – such as trees and grasses in spring and weeds and molds in late summer and fall – may trigger seasonal asthma
3. Know what tests to request
- Pulmonary (lung) function tests: If you suspect your child as asthma or if symptoms are getting worse, your pediatrician will perform these tests, which require your child to breath into a small instrument called a spirometer. The tests measure how much air the lungs can hold and how fast air moves in and out.
- Asthma control test: This test, available online, allows children and parents to grade their symptoms without the pressure of doing so directly to the doctor. Dr. Carl says it’s a really helpful asthma scorecard. Fill it out before your appointment.
4. Be ready to ask: Why aren’t my child’s symptoms responding?
You need to be ready if your child’s treatment is not working if he or she experiences any of the following:
- Recurrent symptoms
- Frequent courses of oral steroids (from your doctor or ER)
- ER visits or hospitalizations
If your child has required multiple courses of oral steroids, it’s time to talk to your doctor about developing a new preventive treatment plan. Dr. Carl says it’s time for a new plan if:
- Your child’s asthma episodes interrupt daytime play more than twice a week or wake them up at night more than twice a month
- They require lots of albuterol aerosol or inhaler use
5. Be patient with long-term treatments
Preventive – or “controller”– medicines do not immediately relieve symptoms in the same way that rescue inhalers do, but will help if used consistently over the long-term.
Dr. Carl urges parents to make sure their pediatrician fully explains what to expect from each medication so they don’t grow impatient and frustrated if results aren’t immediate. Good communication with your pediatrician is essential for achieving optimal asthma care.