6 Ways to Help Your Child Cope With Asthma

About 6.3 million children under the age of 18 have asthma, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Asthma is the most common chronic illness in children, resulting in 10.5 million missed school days annually.

Even more alarming, "Allergy and asthma rates are increasing and we still donít know why," says Janna Tuck MD, an allergist in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Both outdoor and indoor air quality have improved, thanks to a reduction in second-hand smoke due to recent smoking laws and fewer people smoking. Nonetheless, asthma incidence is climbing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While we donít know the reason behind these rising asthma rates, we know that management is key. And one way to help kids manage an asthma diagnosis is to help them own it: "You donít want your kids to feel powerless, you want them to feel in control," says Lisa M. Asta, MD, a pediatrician in Casa Verde, California and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Here are six strategies to help you and your child cope with the condition.

1. Encourage Compliance

Asthma is always there, says Tuck. Itís important to make sure your child takes his medication daily if thatís part of his asthma action planóeven if he feels fine. A sticker chart, in the form of daily checklist or calendar, can work wonders for younger children. Here's how it works: Every time they follow the plan, they place a sticker on the chart. Thatís usually enough incentive, but if not, you can provide small rewards for following the routine. For instance, they get a trip to the local zoo or a sleepover with a friend when they accumulate 10 stickers. You can customize the chart, too: "They can add reminders for when to take their medication, or to rinse their mouths after using a steroidal inhaler," adds Asta.

2. Help Your Child Properly Identify Symptoms

"Some symptoms, shortness of breath for example, may be due to the child simply being out of breath after running around," says Asta. Anxiety can also cause shortness of breath. "Some teens overuse their inhaler because they think they are having an asthma attack when itís really teen angst," adds Tuck.

3. Be Aware of Subtle Symptoms

A child gets used to the symptoms and may become insensitive to them, says Tuck. He may think itís normal to feel a certain way. In addition, viral illnesses and allergies can intensify symptoms. "They may be coughing more, wheezing, struggling to breathe, or it may be more subtle, like they are not playing as they normally would, or seem listless and donít feel well in general."

4. Talk to Your Child About Role Models

Help your child seek out others who thrive with the condition. "There are high-level athletes with asthma," Asta points out. Discuss how their determination to control their condition allowed pro football player Jerome Bettis and Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee to achieve their dreams. The singer Pink, known for her athletic performances onstage, also has asthma.

5. Practice Prevention

"Whether itís on the field, in a seat at school, or relaxing at home, prevention is worth its weight in gold," says Asta. Pay attention to outdoor air quality. If pollen or smog is high, limit outdoor activity. Indoor air matters, too: Dust and pet dander can aggravate allergies and thus provoke symptoms. Asta suggests using an allergen-proof mattress cover and pillowcase, keeping the windows shut during pollen season, and if possible, investing in an air filter for your childís bedroom.

6. Partner With Your Childís Doctor

You are your childís advocate. If you have any concerns, say so. For instance, Tuck references some recent concerns with the medication Singulairóthe anti-inflammatory non-steroidal drug has been shown to increase risk of depression. But instead of relying on blogs to make your decision, she recommends speaking with your child's physician first. "He may tell you that itís still the best choice, but itís not the only choice," she says. "If youíre not happy with the medicine your child is taking, say so. There are lots of options."

Janna Tuck, MD reviewed this article.

Sources

Janna Tuck, MD. Allergy Partners of Cape Girardeau. Telephone interview. March 30, 2016.

Lisa M. Asta, MD. Casa Verde Pediatrics Telephone interview. April 4, 2016.

"National Center for Health Statistics: Asthma." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated February 10, 2016.

"Asthma Facts." American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Accessed March 30, 2016.