What’s Wrong With Me, Mom?
by Kellie Carroll, BHS, RRT-NPS, AE-C
Coughing and wheezing woke me up in the middle of the night. A four-year-old me walked to my parents’ bedroom and woke up my mom. Together, we went into the living room and started a breathing treatment. I sat in her lap, held the mask on my face, and she read me a book until the treatment was over. We had been through this routine so many times that even at this young age I was already a pro at breathing treatments.
Of course, as a child with asthma, I still had trouble understanding why I had to do things a little differently than my friends. Why did I have to go to the school nurse’s office before gym class to use my inhaler? Why did playing with my aunt’s dog make me cough?
Explaining asthma to your child may seem overwhelming, but I can tell you from personal experience that asthma is less scary when children understand the basics of asthma.
Even young children benefit
Children of different ages learn in different ways, but all children can benefit from understanding what asthma is, how to prevent symptoms, and which treatments will help relieve symptoms. Since young children may have difficulty understanding explanations, pictures can be helpful.
For example, showing your child pictures of how the tubes used to breathe get squeezed and swell when he or she has asthma symptoms, and how medications help keep the tubes open, is an easier way to get him or her to understand what’s happening than an oral explanation. Avoiding medical jargon is good practice, since it is likely to confuse younger children.
Even though it may seem that asthma symptoms are unpredictable, children often notice they have asthma symptoms more frequently in certain places or around specific things, just as I wondered as a child why dogs made me wheeze. Helping your child identify asthma triggers can be helpful for both you and your child.
When you and your child know which triggers cause symptoms and how to avoid triggers, your child’s asthma is likely to be better controlled and seem less unpredictable.
Older kids need to take responsibility
Older children and teenagers should be involved in their asthma management and taught to take on more responsibility. Just as with younger children, it is essential that older children understand asthma triggers and avoid them as much as possible.
For younger children, asthma medications are managed solely by adults. However, teenagers must understand how to use medications and devices proficiently to improve their ability to self-manage asthma as an adult. The devices used to administer medication, such as inhalers and spacers, require teaching and practice to use them correctly.
Common problems for older children and teenagers are ignoring symptoms and not taking medications, which can result in more frequent and worsening asthma symptoms. Older children must understand the possible consequences of not using medications appropriately.
In order for teenagers to have a larger role in managing their asthma, they need to know when to get help from an adult and how to respond in an emergency.
Knowledge is power
Asthma may seem like a complicated topic to explain to your child, but teaching him or her the basics of asthma can help you regain control and make asthma seem less frightening. The more you and your child know about asthma, the more control you can have over asthma.
Empowering your child with the knowledge to manage asthma more effectively can start him or her on a lifelong path of self-management.
Kellie Carroll is an AARC member from Missouri who currently serves as a member of the Critical Care Transport Team at the University of Missouri Health System’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia.