Childhood asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease, and the number one cause of school absences. An estimated four to six million children are affected by asthma, five to seven percent of all U.S. children. Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease in which the airways become sensitive to allergens, substances that trigger an allergic reaction. When a child with asthma is exposed to allergens, the following occurs:
- Lining of the airways become swollen and inflamed
- Muscles that surround the airways tighten
- Production of mucus increases, leading to mucus plugs
Symptoms vary by child, but can include:
- Coughing (constant or intermittent)
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath while child is playing
- Chest tightness
- Nighttime cough
- Noisy breathing
If your child has frequent coughing or respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis, he or she should be evaluated for asthma. With proper management of asthma, a child with asthma can conduct a healthy and active life. You and your child's pediatrician can work together to gain control over your child's symptoms, reduce the risk of severe attacks, and help maintain a normal life. The following are common components of successful asthma management:
Eliminate asthma triggers
- Limit colds and infections: Asthma can be triggered by viral infections, not treatable by antibiotics. Be sure your child gets plenty of sleep, eats a balanced diet, drinks lots of fluids, exercises regularly, and limits exposure to others with colds. Your child's pediatrician may also recommend a flu shot.
- Recognize and avoid irritants: Cigarette smoking irritates airways and causes them to narrow. Cigarette smoking should be eliminated in the home of children with asthma. Other irritants such as air pollution, strong odors, aerosol sprays and paint fumes should also be avoided.
- Reduce cold air's impact: Breathing cold air provokes asthma in most children with asthma. Have your child wear a ski mask or heavy scarf worn loosely over the nose and mouth when they go outside this winter.
- Exercise safely: Regular exercise strengthens your child's heart and lungs, which will help to limit the number of asthma attacks. However, it's important that children use their reliever inhalers as prescribed by the pediatrician before they start. Be sure your child warms up before exercise. Swimming is a great form of exercise for asthmatics because the air in the pool is usually warm and moist.
- Eliminate, reduce and avoid allergens: Most asthmatics are allergic to pollen, mold, and/or animals. Asthmatics should not have furry or feathery pets in their home. If you already have a pet, keep it out of your child's bedroom. Wash dogs or cats at least once a week. Your child's pediatrician may recommend immunotherapy, allergy desensitization shots, after a skin test to determine the allergens that cause the most trouble.
- Limit dust mites: Vacuum your child's room, carpet, and mattress every few days. Make sure the house is dusted regularly with a damp cloth. Wash bedding in hot water (130° F) at least once a week. Use an air conditioner or keep windows closed during pollen season. Encase mattresses, pillow and box springs in dustproof covers. Change the furnace and air conditioning filters according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Your child's pediatrician will probably prescribe bronchodilators to provide temporary relief of asthma symptoms and will let you know when it should be used (e.g. before exercising, breathing cold air, or at night, depending on what is prescribed). Be sure to find out how to use these correctly. The pediatrician may also prescribe long-term treatment anti-inflammatory drugs.
Asthma is an ongoing condition that needs to be regularly monitored and treated. The plan you develop with your child's pediatrician will include regularly monitoring your child's breathing with a peak flow meter (PFM). A PFM is a device that measures the amount of air a person can blow air out of the lungs.
The following GIC health plans offer asthma management programs to complement services provided by your child's pediatrician. These are available at no charge for plan members.
Fallon Health Plan Asthma Program 1-800-868-5200- Telephone nurse evaluation and follow up and an educational class.
Health New England Pediatric Asthma Management Program 1-800-842-4464 - Educational materials, contests, incentive program and prizes, peak flow diaries, home/environmental assessments, and educational classes.
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Asthma Management Program 1-800-742-8326 ext. 31168 - Educational materials and an action plan with telephone nurse educator support and counseling. Includes referrals to asthma management programs in your area.
Neighborhood Health Plan's Asthma Program 617-772-5641 - customized quarterly site report and biweekly asthma trigger report provided to member's health center. Asthma case manager support. By clinician referral, asthma home visitation program by specially trained respiratory therapist or nurse.
For more information on childhood asthma, see the following web sites: allergy and asthma network, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, American Lung Association, and Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.