October 23, 2023/Lung

Treating Asthma in Children: How Parents Can Help

Asthma-proof your home, keep notes and (try to) be patient with long-term treatments

Parent helps child with their inhaler at home.

Your child is all set for soccer practice when their asthma flares. Or maybe they’re snuggled in their bed when they wake up suddenly and reach for their rescue medication. Whether it happens during play or at rest, it’s so hard to see your child coughing, wheezing and struggling to breathe or speak.

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Fortunately, symptoms of childhood asthma can be well-managed with a combination of medications and avoiding asthma triggers.

The best treatment for your child’s asthma will be personalized to their condition, triggers and symptoms. Their treatment may change and evolve over time. And you play a big role in that.

Pediatric pulmonologist Silvia Cardenas-Zegarra, MD, offers these tips to help you help work with your child’s healthcare provider to create a plan to best treat your kid’s asthma.

How asthma is treated

Asthma is typically treated with a combination of quick-relief medications, long-term control medications and managing asthma triggers.

When your child is diagnosed with asthma, your provider will work with you to review proper medication procedures, like the correct techniques for using a spacer to deliver medication from their inhaler effectively.

They’ll also work with you to create an asthma action plan. The plan is a guide to help you and others who care for your child know what steps to take to manage their symptoms.

The idea is that you’ll have a roadmap in place and know how to handle various situations. It’ll include things like:

  • What control (prevention) medications should your child take every day?
  • What steps should you take if your child starts to feel cold-like symptoms or has symptoms like mild wheezing?
  • What quick relief medications should be taken in the event of an asthma flare?
  • What asthma-related symptoms should prompt you to go to the emergency room?

The asthma action plan isn’t a one-and-done document, Dr. Cardenas-Zegarra notes. It should be reviewed and updated regularly based on how your child’s asthma is responding to certain treatments and other factors.

Parents and caregivers play an important part as a member of a child’s asthma treatment team. Dr. Cardenas-Zegarra suggests these five ways you can play a big role in informing these plans and lessening your child’s asthma symptoms.

1. Lessening asthma triggers

Avoiding asthma triggers to the extent possible is one of the most effective ways to manage asthma symptoms. Dr. Cardenas-Zegarra suggests trying to lower your child’s exposure to things that could trigger asthma symptoms.

That includes things like:

  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Mold, dampness and dust in the home.
  • Outdoor allergens — like trees and grasses in spring and weeds and molds in late summer and fall.
  • Furry pets. Dogs and cats may immediately come to mind. But even the smaller varieties of house pets — like guinea pigs and hamsters — can make it more difficult to manage asthma. That’s because their bedding is typically made of small particles that can kick up and add to dust.

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If you don’t know if your child’s asthma is related to a particular allergen, talk with their healthcare provider. They can help determine what may be triggering your child’s asthma and share advice for how to lower their exposure to those triggers.

2. Keeping detailed records

The best way to develop an effective treatment plan for your child is to go to appointments with their asthma specialist prepared to talk about your child’s symptoms and progress, Dr. Cardenas-Zegarra advises. Keep a detailed account of what’s been happening with your child’s asthma so you and your provider can find patterns.

“Good communication with your child’s healthcare provider is essential for achieving optimal asthma care,” she says.

Details to keep track of include:

  1. The number of wheezing episodes your child has on a weekly or monthly basis.
  2. What triggers their symptoms.
  3. Any visits to a provider’s office, urgent care, emergency room or hospital related to their asthma.
  4. Medications your child takes and whether there have been problems with keeping consistent with those medication.
  5. How often your child requires rescue medications to treat sudden symptoms.

Before your appointment, it might also help to take an online asthma control test. This survey allows children and caregivers to grade their symptoms at home — without the pressure of doing so when you’re at the doctor’s office. Dr. Cardenas-Zegarra says it’s a really helpful asthma scorecard. Fill it out before your appointment.

3. Being patient with long-term treatments

Preventive — or “controller” — medicines don’t immediately relieve symptoms in the same way that rescue inhalers do. But when they’re used long-term, they can help prevent asthma flares before they happen.

Dr. Cardenas-Zegarra urges parents to make sure their child’s healthcare provider fully explains what to expect from each medication. That includes how long it will take to work. Knowing what to expect up front can keep you from worrying or becoming frustrated when the results aren’t immediate.

4. Expecting plans to change

Treating your child’s asthma may take a bit to get just right. Be prepared to advocate for your child if their current treatments aren’t working.

Dr. Cardenas-Zegarra says it’s time for a new asthma treatment 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 need to use albuterol aerosol or an inhaler often.
  • Your child requires multiple courses of oral steroids.

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5. Keeping others informed

It’s important that anyone who will be responsible for your child has access to their treatment plan and knows what to do in case of an asthma flare.

Talk with your child’s school nurses, coaches, daycare providers, babysitters and others. Share copies of the plan with them, and ask that they let you know about asthma symptoms they notice while your child is in their care. That includes things like episodes of wheezing, inhaler use or shortness of breath.

Asthma can’t be cured, but it can be managed. And proper management will help make sure your child can enjoy an active life free from asthma symptoms. Talk with their healthcare provider about your concerns, about your child’s progress and about opportunities for new treatment options.

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