Family Health Guide

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Asthma: Treatment

Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be successfully managed. Good asthma control will reduce your child’s need for “quick-relief” medicines like emergency inhalers, and will minimize chronic symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath. With careful management, your child will be able to maintain good lung function, get enough sleep and keep up with friends. Management can also help prevent scary trips to the ER.

The first step will be for you and your doctor to develop an asthma management plan that includes daily treatment as well as strategies for dealing with attacks and emergencies. Your plan and treatment will depend on the type and severity of your child’s asthma, as well as her age. But some common strategies include:

  • Medication: Most children will need some form of medication to manage their symptoms. Some children will require several medications on a daily basis, while others may only need a “rescue” inhaler or other medication during allergy or cold season. Medications come in pill and inhaled forms.
  • Monitoring: Many children will use a peak flow meter at home to regularly measure their breathing, since lung function can decrease before symptoms are noticeable.
  • Avoidance and Control: This means discovering what triggers your child’s asthma and, as much as possible, avoiding or controlling it. This might translate into things like allergy testing and shots during pollen season, annual flu shots, keeping family pets out of a child’s room, or having her skip recess on cold, windy days.

When To Seek Emergency Treatment
Every parent knows his or her child and is the best judge of when to seek immediate help, either by calling a doctor, driving to the emergency room, or calling 911. When talking about your asthma management plan, be sure to discuss emergency care with your doctor as well. However, here are some general signs that an asthmatic child needs immediate medical help:

  • Rib retractions, or the pulling in of the skin between the ribs (this is especially alarming in infants, who have weak muscles and may get too tired to breathe)
  • Babies will flare their nostrils when breathing in order to increase oxygen intake
  • A peak flow reading below 50% that doesn't improve with medication
  • Bluish or gray lips or fingernails
  • Difficulty speaking
  • No improvement with the use of rescue inhalers, or only short-term improvement of symptoms