Knowledge is Power
By Eileen Censullo, MBA, RRT
Asthma is a lung condition that causes difficulty breathing, and it’s common among kids and teens. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Anyone can have asthma, even infants, and the tendency to develop the condition is often inherited.
The key to managing asthma is to educate yourself on the condition, and there are lots of ways you can accomplish that goal.
First and foremost, you need a basic understanding of asthma and how it impacts those who have it.
Asthma affects the bronchial tubes, or airways. When someone breathes normally, air is taken in through the nose or mouth and then goes into the trachea (windpipe), passing through the bronchial tubes into the lungs and finally back out again.
But people with asthma have inflamed airways that produce lots of thick mucus. They’re also overly sensitive, or hyperreactive, to certain things, like exercise, dust, or cigarette smoke. This hyperreactivity causes the smooth muscle that surrounds the airways to tighten up. The combination of airway inflammation and muscle tightening narrows the airways and makes it difficult for air to move through.
More than 23 million people in the U.S. have asthma. In fact, it’s the No. 1 reason kids chronically miss school. And flare-ups are the most common cause of pediatric emergency room visits due to a chronic illness.
Asthma is also the number one chronic condition that causes parents to miss work because children who suffer from asthma cannot attend school or day care when they have a flare up and that means a parent or caregiver must often stay home with them.
Some children have only mild, occasional symptoms or only show symptoms after exercising. Others have severe asthma that, left untreated, can dramatically limit how active they are and cause changes in lung function. But thanks to new medications and treatment strategies, kids with asthma no longer need to sit on the sidelines, and parents no longer need to worry constantly about their child’s wellbeing.
With patient education and the right asthma management plan, families can learn to control symptoms and asthma flare ups more independently, allowing kids to do just about anything they want.
There are many different ways that families and children can learn more about asthma, how to manage it, and what to do when there are flare-ups. You can find many web-based programs out there today that you can complete on your own time and at your own pace. Many health systems provide asthma day camps that are held from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. during one week in the summer. Other facilities host sleep-over asthma camps for kids with the condition.
Hospitals in your community may also provide workshops much like you see for other chronic conditions. These sessions cover a range of topics, from asthma and exercise, to what makes asthma worse, to medications and more. These programs can be for children or adults with asthma.
Doctors rely on hospitals and community programs to assist them in the care of their patients who have chronic conditions. Asthma stays with you forever. You may outgrow the need for medication, but will in fact never outgrow the condition. Education is crucial to managing asthma. There are even peak flow meters that record your daily peak flow and download it and transmit it right to your asthma doctor’s office for tracking purposes.
Thanks to technology, patients can search the web for information on any condition. Many articles can be found on asthma that cover what it is, how to manage it, and tips to stay healthy. So surf the Web and see what you can find—but please be sure to view websites associated with a hospital, health organization, or other trusted source to ensure you are receiving accurate information about asthma. Remember, knowledge is power and education is the key to success.Eileen Censullo is a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care and a resident of Pennsylvania, where she serves as vice president of quality improvement and systems information at the American Heart Association and as president of the Pennsylvania Society for Respiratory Care.