Resources on Asthma Control for Parents
Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that causes the narrowing and swelling of the airways. This results in excess mucus production and difficulty breathing. Asthma can be a minor nuisance to some. To others, it can disrupt daily living and even lead to a life-threatening attack.
Asthma can occur in both adults and children. Most children with asthma experience symptoms before turning five. Since their bronchial tubes or airways are small and narrow, any trigger can easily inflame these passages and make them even smaller.
There is no known cause for asthma in children. However, experts believe it may be inherited from parents. External factors may also trigger the condition, such as exposure to allergens and air pollution.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, about 6 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma. Parents are advised to seek immediate professional help when symptoms occur. Early diagnosis helps the family and health practitioners to control asthma symptoms and to promote a good quality of life.
Asthma in adults does not differ from childhood asthma. However, children can suffer differently.
The common signs and symptoms of childhood asthma include the following:
- Frequent coughing, especially during the night, with exercise, or cold-air exposure
- A wheezing sound during exhalation
- Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing during play or exercise
- Chest tightness or congestion
- Fatigue caused by poor sleep
Other secondary asthma symptoms parents should watch out for include the following:
- Difficulty sleeping because of too much coughing or wheezing
- Worsening coughing due to a cold or the flu
- Slow recovery from a respiratory infection, which may lead to bronchitis
- Interrupted play or exercise due to breathing trouble
Asthma symptoms vary from child to child. Some signs may indicate other medical conditions. Parents and guardians are encouraged to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Asthma is diagnosed by an allergist through a comprehensive medical history review and a series of medical examinations. These include breathing tests that will assess how well the lungs function. Common examinations include the following:
- SpirometryThis common pulmonary test assesses the child’s lung function through a device called a spirometer. During this test, the child takes a deep breath and blows into the spirometer. The spirometer will then measure the amount of air held in the lungs and the speed of air during inhalation and exhalation.Aside from being used as a diagnostic test, spirometry also helps determine the effectiveness of treatment. It also assesses the severity of lung conditions.
- Peak flow monitoring (PFM)This test uses a peak flow meter, which measures a person’s ability to push air out of the lungs. During the test, the child takes a deep breath and blows a fast, hard blast into the meter’s mouthpiece. Peak-flow monitoring is an effective way to evaluate how well a lung disease is being controlled.
- Chest X-raysThis diagnostic test is used to capture a visual image of the lungs onto film. Doctors require a chest X-ray to rule out other health conditions that may be causing a child’s asthma-like symptoms.
Asthma patients have heightened immune system sensitivity, which causes the swelling of the lungs due to certain triggers.
Each trigger is different from child to child and can include the following:
- Viral infections, like the common cold
- Physical activity
- Weather changes, like cold air
- dust and dust mites, cockroaches, and pests
- Allergies to pet dander, pollen, or mold [CDC]
- Nitrogen dioxide emissions, such as vehicular smoke or wood smoke [ALA]
- Chemical irritants, such as paints and pesticides
To keep symptoms at bay, parents of children with asthma are advised to keep their homes clean and free from these triggers.
Asthma-proof Your Home
Americans spend much of their days indoors, so it’s important to keep indoor spaces clean and healthy to keep asthma symptoms under control. [AIM]
Improving Indoor Air Quality
The goal of making homes safer for children with asthma is to improve air quality. Parents and guardians need to limit their kids’ exposure to indoor triggers to control asthma symptoms.
A healthy indoor air environment is one with a good HVAC system, adequate ventilation and humidity control, and proper air filtration.
Generally, it is important to have the HVAC system regularly checked to ensure it’s not disrupting indoor air quality. Without a functional HVAC system, allergens and irritants build up within the home and compromise the residents’ health.
Humidity should also be maintained between 30 and 50 percent. [AIM] Homeowners can make use of humidity meters found in local hardware shops. To keep moisture and humidity low, exhaust fans and dehumidifiers can be used.
Proper Home Cleaning Tips
To reduce household triggers, parents must use proper cleaning measures to ensure an asthma-proof home. It’s best to clean when children are out of the house.
Using a normal vacuum cleaner can stir up fine dust and spread it across the room. Dust can remain in the air for up to eight hours, worsening asthma symptoms. To avoid this, it’s best to invest in a vacuum cleaner that is equipped with a high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter.
- BedroomDust mites accumulate in warm and sufficiently moist places, such as in bedding. The fibrous materials also make it easier for mites to cling to mattresses, carpets, and linens.To control dust mites, it is recommended to dust bed linens and carpets each week. Keep mattresses in airtight plastic covers and wipe them weekly with a damp cloth. Also, wash bed covers in hot water once a week.
- Living RoomAvoid smoking in the living room or in any parts of the home. Other substances that can pollute indoor air include aerosol sprays and perfumes.Wipe windows clean using an effective window cleaner that does not contain harsh chemicals. The goal is to prevent irritating substances that can trigger an asthma attack. As much as possible, keep windows shut to prevent pollens and outdoor allergens from coming in.
- KitchenOdors from household cleaners and solvents contribute to poor air quality in the kitchen. Some products, especially those that contain volatile organic compounds, can irritate the eyes and trigger allergies. [ALA]Make sure to tuck household cleaners and chemicals away from vents to avoid fumes from circulating throughout the home. When using products, proper instructions should be followed.
- BathroomAside from harsh cleaning products, it is important to prevent other common asthma triggers in the bathroom, such as mold and high moisture. When using the bathroom, it’s recommended to turn on the exhaust to decrease humidity and to avoid mold growth.Wipe bathroom windows to lessen moisture buildup. A good window cleaner will help get rid of any mold that is starting to form in the corners of bathroom windows.
Parents need to know about proper asthma management to protect their children. This helps them control symptoms and give their children a better quality of life.
Parents of children with asthma are encouraged to develop a written asthma action plan with their doctor. A control plan will help to do the following:
- Determine the need for adjustment in maintenance medications
- Evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment
- Spot the symptoms of an asthma attack and learn the proper countermeasures
- Know when to seek professional help
Aside from an asthma action plan, parents need to focus on reducing environmental factors that trigger an attack. This means getting rid of household irritants and allergens, such as dust mites, mold, and harsh chemicals. By cleaning the home and improving its indoor air quality, parents are able to control their children’s asthma symptoms and to provide them with a happy, normal life.
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. n.d. “Asthma in Children: Who Has Asthma and Why?” Accessed March 16, 2020.
Asthma Initiative of Michigan. n.d. “Indoor Air Quality.” Accessed March 16, 2020.
American Lung Association. “Cleaning Supplies.” Accessed March 16, 2020.
American Lung Association. n.d. “Nitrogen Dioxide.” Accessed March 16, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. “Mold.” Page last reviewed December 16, 2019.
Children’s National Hospital. n.d. “Pediatric Asthma. Conditions & Treatments.” Accessed March 15, 2020.
Healthy Children. n.d. “Dust Mite Control:Tips for Parents.”
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/allergies-asthma/Pages/Dust-Mite-Control.aspx. Accessed March 16, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. n.d. “Childhood Asthma.”
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-asthma/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351513. Accessed March 15, 2020.