As the outside air begins to cool, asthma care and staying on track with medications becomes even more important. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asthma is the leading pediatric chronic illness in the United States and one of the most common causes of school absenteeism. It is a disease of airway inflammation and constriction and while there is no cure, it can be controlled.
To maximize control, properly use medications (if prescribed) and avoid asthma triggers. Two of the biggest challenges faced by health care providers in treating children with asthma are medication compliance and exposure to conditions that trigger the disease.
A child may be prescribed appropriate medications to control symptoms, but the meds are often not taken as directed. There are two main categories of asthma medicine – controllers and rescue, or relievers. Both types of medication are equally important and you cannot properly manage your child’s asthma without both of them.
Asthma flair-ups can be triggered by allergens (i.e.: pollen, mold, dust, pet dander, etc.), irritants (i.e. cigarette smoke, pollution, emotions, weather changes, etc.) or both. The winter season brings with it a number of irritants and allergens to your child’s environment, such as:
- Respiratory infections: Colds and flu pose major challenges to children with asthma. Even when your child’s asthma is under good control, a respiratory infection can trigger symptoms. Already sensitive airways can quickly become inflamed and swollen. If approved by your physician, your child should receive the flu vaccine every year. Teach your child the best way to prevent the spreading of infections by good hand washing.
- Cold air: Breathing in cold air during the winter months can trigger asthma. It is important to warm the air that is being inhaled by wearing a scarf over the nose and mouth when colder temperatures are present.
- Poor air quality: Forbid smoking inside the house and car. Avoid the use of wood stoves and wood burning fireplaces, if possible. The use of these is very drying to the air and the fumes can trigger an asthma attack.
- Higher concentration of indoor allergens: With doors and windows shut tight to keep the cold air out, there is an increased concentration of indoor triggers such as:
- Mold and mildew: Inspect damp areas of the house to detect mold and mildew growth and clean promptly.
- Dust mites: Remove dust collecting items from your child’s bedroom. Wash bed linens weekly in HOT water. Encase mattress and pillow in allergy covers.
- Pet dander: Remove pet, if possible. Do not allow the pet in your child’s immediate living areas, especially the bedroom. Wash your pet often to cut down on dander.
- Cockroaches: Droppings and body parts of household cockroaches can irritate a child’s asthma. Promptly clean up spills, remove trash from inside your home and keep food in airtight containers.
Joan Upperman RN, BSN, AE-C, is the asthma coordinator at Mercy Children’s Hospital. For more information, please visit www.mercychildrens.net.