All about asthma

admincpp//May 6, 2013

All about asthma

admincpp//May 6, 2013

When Tracey MacDonald learned her son Mac, then 7 years old, was diagnosed with asthma, she was very surprised. "He seemed to run out of energy and be more fatigued than other kids his age, but I never suspected he had asthma," the 42-year-old Dallastown nurse and mom of two said. "Even after these years have passed I can still remember that day in the office receiving all the information and drug samples … with my mind just spinning."

Learning your child has asthma can be overwhelming, but experts say by following simple health guidelines and using the right medications, most children who suffer from asthma can lead an active, normal life. "Asthma is the most common chronic illness in childhood," said Frances Gross, division chief of General Pediatrics at Roseville Pediatrics. "Most children are diagnosed and cared for by their primary care provider. Children with moderate to severe asthma are referred to asthma and allergy specialist for care and allergy workup as determined by their pediatrician or family physician."

That annoying cough

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects 1 out of every 11 children. The disease causes attacks which narrow and inflame the airways, and can cause wheezing, chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath and coughing. "Most of the time it’s pretty obvious in children if they are having respiratory distress or wheezing. Parents pick up on (the symptoms) and see them. Probably the group parents might not think about in the beginning is children who have prolonged coughing," Gross said. "Children will present with recurrent wheezing with upper respiratory infections or chronic cough—cough lasting greater than three weeks."

Children often have asthma symptoms after a viral infection—the virus causes the lungs to be inflamed and swell which makes the airways go into spasms. "You really don’t develop asthma," Gross said. "You’re usually born with the genes that carry allergy and asthma on it. For children it’s not really anything that causes it … the way it’s activated is through a virus."

Getting it under control

Common asthma triggers include exercise, tobacco smoke, and allergens. Depending on the severity of the asthma and the things that trigger attack, health care providers can give children different kinds of medication based on their needs. "The more triggers you are exposed to, the more medication you need," Gross said.

Today Tracey’s sons, Mac, 15, and Carter, 12, both suffer from asthma but have it under control with lifestyle and medication changes. Educating herself and her children on asthma triggers and limitations has helped her children to adjust to live a normal life. "They know the stereotypes about it too, that you are weak or are a nerd …but these boys never let that get them down or stop them from doing or trying anything they want," she said. "I don’t want them walking around worrying about what might happen, which is easier for parents to do. Instead I want them to forget and say ‘Oh yeah, I have this little annoyance called asthma, it’s no big deal because I take care of myself and I can do anything I want.’"

While Tracey credits her caring health care team for her sons’ successes, she also says that the American Lung Association has been one of her family’s greatest resources for help and support. "The American Lung Association has so much to offer," she said. The MacDonald family has participated the past five years in the Asthma Olympics, an athletic competition for kids with asthma to compete in track and field events while learning about their asthma and how to better manage it. Now that her boys are growing older, they continue to help by volunteering at the event. She says giving back and helping others to learn about asthma has helped her family cope with the disease. "There’s no cure for asthma, there’s not always any way to prevent my kids from getting sick or having an asthma attack, but just by doing something small I feel like it’s a way I can help," she said.

Marina Shannon is a freelance writer and married mom of two energetic boys in Waynesboro.

Where to get help

From events like the Asthma Olympics to programs like Open Airways For Schools, the American Lung Association works to help kids (and adults) cope with and understand this disease. The American Lung Association also operates the Lung Helpline (1-800-586-4872) where you can ask questions to registered nurses and registered respiratory therapists about asthma—all free of charge.

Recently diagnosed? The American Lung Association of Pa. and Pa. Asthma Partnership have a free asthma kit made available through grants from The Stabler Foundation, Genentech, the Hershey Company and Highmark Blue Shield. The kits were developed to help with asthma management and provide information and resources directly to families of children diagnosed with asthma in Dauphin, Cumberland, Lebanon, Lancaster, Perry and Schuylkill Counties. Each kit includes a peak flow meter, spacer, educational DVD and educational literature about asthma. To get your free kit, email [email protected] or call 717-541-5864 extension 44 for more information. For more information about asthma, visit www.lunginfo.org.