High blood pressure. Heart disease. Diabetes. We often see these chronic diseases discussed publicly – how to spot them, how to prevent them and how to treat them. On the other hand, discussions about the impact of asthma are infrequent, and asthma is commonly understood to be a fairly uncomplicated disorder with few risks. However, the reality is that this disease can adversely affect a patients’ overall health if it is left unmanaged or undiagnosed.
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases, affecting 334 million people globally. It is estimated that the number of people with asthma will grow by more than 100 million by 2025. Asthma impacts people of all ages, specifically the smallest of patients – children. Currently, about 14 percent of the world’s children experience asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty completing physical activity, drowsiness and chest tightness.
No one-size-fits-all treatment
By causing narrowing and inflammation of the airways, it can make the simple, often unconscious, act of breathing difficult. Severe asthma can be life-threatening if not properly managed. While there are many effective therapies, there remains no cure-all for the disease.
A healthy lifestyle, with avoidance of smoking and known allergens, is key. It’s a myth that asthmatic children have to limit their daily activity to avoid an attack. If asthma is well-managed, your children can do everything they love from sports to playing outside and everything in between. Learning what can trigger an asthma attack or flare-ups and taking the steps to avoid them is critical. Proper adherence to therapy and the creation of an asthma management plan are also essential.
Maximizing the benefits of medications
Managing asthma is most successful when patients are active in their own care. Consider these 8 tips if you’re looking to further maximize the potential of your or your loved ones’ asthma treatment.
Consider getting children tested early – and don’t deem a diagnosis of asthma their life sentence
Asthma is the most chronic condition affecting children. Unfortunately, since very young children are unable to talk about their symptoms, diagnosing asthma in this age group can be challenging. Asthma is most commonly diagnosed around the age of five years.
2. Teach your child how to use their device properly
In 90 percent of patients, incorrect inhaler technique limits the effectiveness of their medications. This is especially true for younger asthma patients. Ensure that your children are getting the right dosage in the right way with correct usage. Encourage them to take control of their asthma symptoms using either a peak flow monitor to measure how their lungs are functioning or with a simple wall chart and symptom stickers. This way, they’ll learn about potential triggers that can make their condition worse.
3. Create an emergency action plan
Should your child have an asthma attack, create an action plan so that you, your child and your child’s caregivers have clear directions on how to respond. This includes educating teachers and after-school program supervisors on your child’s condition to ensure that they know how to properly react to an emergency asthma attack. It is crucial that your child and their caregivers have a rescue inhaler that is easily accessible at all times. It’s also important that all adults know how to monitor a child that is recovering from an asthma attack until they are feeling better and to alert the child’s parents immediately.
4. Adhere to your child’s medication plan
Some parents worry about giving their child medications every day. They question the long-term side eﬀects these medications might have. However, it’s important to stick to a regular medication plan even if your child is not experiencing any symptoms. It’s important to care for asthma proactively rather than reactively – meaning that it is better to prevent asthma attacks from occurring by optimizing lung function rather than treating asthma attacks as they happen.
5. Maintain good air quality at home through air purifiers and humidifiers
Indoor air is often full of allergens that can cause asthma flare-ups. Regularly maintain your air conditioning and heating systems ensuring proper airflow, filtration and control of humidity. This will help to improve indoor air quality. Check outside pollution or pollen levels using free applications on your phone, and unless levels are high, open windows to let fresh air circulate throughout your home. Keep pets off furniture and beds if pet hair causes worsening of symptoms. In some cases, placing an air purifier in the patient’s bedroom can help to reduce allergens.
6. Remove yourself from stressful situations
For some patients, stress can be a significant trigger for asthmatic symptoms. Figuring out how to best cope with stress is a key part of maximizing asthma management. Consider calming breathing techniques to help with this.
7. Add a valved holding chamber to improve drug delivery
Improper inhaler technique can cause the inhaled medication to hit the back of the throat, or remain in the mouth. Consider adding a valved holding chamber to an inhaler to deliver more medication to the lungs where it is needed. Connecting a one-way valve at the mouthpiece of a spacer enables the device to hold the medication within the chamber as the patient takes a slow, deep breath, thereby helping to improve drug delivery.
8. Ask your doctor about a nebulizer for easier drug delivery
For some patients, nebulizers have clear benefits for treating asthma. This method of drug delivery turns the medication into a fine mist that is easily absorbed into the lungs. Since the treatment flows continuously through a mask, some patient can find it easier to use than inhalers that require coordination between breathing and device actuation.
Asthma is a common and serious chronic disease.
It can be effectively managed with most patients gaining control of their condition. As patients become more proactive in their therapy, triggers that may result in flare-ups or hospital visits can be avoided and controlled.
Teofilo Lee-Chiong, MD
Teofilo L. Lee-Chiong Jr., MD is a Professor of Medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver and at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. He has authored or edited 16 textbooks in Sleep Medicine and Pulmonary Medicine, has more than 150 publications, has given more than 300 presentations in the United States and internationally, and has participated in more than 30 research projects. In addition, he developed and serves as the consulting editor of Sleep Medicine Clinics, and is a member of the editorial board and reviewer of several medical journals and publications. Dr. Lee-Chiong completed his internship and residency in internal medicine and his pulmonary and critical care medicine fellowship at Yale, and his post-fellowship training in Sleep Medicine at Dartmouth. He joined Philips Respironics as its Chief Medical Liaison in 2011.