Breathe. Just breathe. Today, many children with asthma can deeply inhale and release their breaths slowly to create soap bubbles or scatter milky white dandelions seeds or cool their hot soups. They don't cough, nor do they wheeze. With new medications and new knowledge that sheds light on how to control asthma, they almost take for granted what even a generation or two before them couldn't fully imagine: Safely controlling their asthma — by reducing constriction and inflammation of their airways — to do almost anything they want.
But there's a flip side to this picture. Many other children with asthma — perhaps even friends of those children who are controlling their asthma symptoms well — find themselves excusing themselves from gym class for fear of triggering their asthma symptoms. Or, maybe they have become regulars at the local hospital's emergency room for when they have one of their frequent asthma flare-ups.
Today in the United States, an estimated 6.5 million children under age eighteen (almost 9 percent of the population) are now diagnosed with asthma. This rate has more than doubled since 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's now the most common chronic childhood disease in the country.
But, despite the medical inroads that have been made in asthma treatment and control, many children in this growing population are still finding it hard to breathe. They're continuing to cough and wheeze during the day, and sleep uncomfortably through the night. Many don't have an asthma action plan or they're not sure how to use a peak flow meter or inhaler correctly. These children are letting asthma symptoms manage them — instead of them managing it.
Parents know that it's a tough job getting on top of asthma — trying to monitor symptoms or figure out if those prescribed medications are doing their jobs. Oftentimes, it means working with a reluctant child who hates being different from friends or siblings.
There's no easy answer — especially working with a health care system that can be fragmented and short of time when it comes to communicating effectively. But you don't have to let that control you — you can control it by asking physicians and health care providers to partner with you and answer your questions about how to best manage your children's asthma. Guidelines exist about getting the best outcomes for asthma. You should know about them.
You also can take control of your indoor environment — eliminating tobacco smoke and eradicating molds and dust mites from your home, and taking aim at air quality and chemical use in the schools. And, you can take control of your outdoor environment — monitoring the air quality in your neighborhood.
As a community, we have to take control as well. In particular, people need more understanding of why the pediatric population with asthma is expanding so quickly. Aside from looking at genetic relationships, many theories are now being explored regarding exposure to viruses, environmental pollutants, or even lifestyle behaviors.
As you are seeing, medical science has moved along quickly to find better ways to treat and manage asthma symptoms. But sometimes science gets ahead of what you can practically do every day to help your children understand what asthma is and how they can live with it and control it.
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