A Parent’s Guide: When Asthma Attacks
For many children, warm weather means outdoor activities and fun in the sun. But for the 4.8 million American children with asthma, this time of year may bring on more dread than excitement.
If you’re a parent of a child with asthma, you know this season can be especially challenging. Springtime staples such as pollen, mold spores, grass, heat, humidity, and blooming flowers may trigger a potentially dangerous asthma flare-up. Asthma flare-ups are also called asthma attacks or exacerbations.
“Some asthma flare-ups can go away on their own or may require medication. But in severe cases, asthma flare-ups can be life-threatening and may require hospitalization,” said Judith Prairie, a physician at Family Care Center of Mooresville.
An asthma flare-up can be scary, both for your child and for you as a parent. However, noticing the signs quickly and knowing how to handle a flare-up can be helpful.
May is Asthma Awareness Month, the perfect time to learn more about asthma flare-ups and what to do when asthma attacks.
What happens during an asthma flare-up?
“An asthma attack is when the bronchial tube or tubes that allow for airflow to and from the lungs become inflamed and obstructed,” said Prairie.
In children with asthma, their airways are often swollen and sensitive. The tiniest things can aggravate the supersensitive airways and trigger an asthma flare-up.
“Some of the most common triggers include pollen, mold, dust mites, pet dander or fur, tobacco smoke, perfumes, infections like a cold or the flu, physical activity, certain medications, poor air quality, and emotional stress like intense crying,” said Prairie.
When your child is exposed to one of their asthma triggers, the inflammation in their airways worsens. Inside your child’s lungs, their airways—already narrowed by swelling—become even smaller as their muscular walls contract and tissue inside them swells, which restricts airflow. In addition, cells inside the airways start to make more mucus, a thick substance that restricts airflow and makes breathing even more difficult.
Signs of a flare-up
This reaction can cause several symptoms that can be mild or more severe. Signs of a flare-up can develop gradually or suddenly. The most common signs include chest tightness, wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
According to Prairie, some severe symptoms include:
- Inability to speak more than a few words
- Severe shortness of breath and wheezing
- Straining chest muscles to breathe
- Low peak flow readings
- No improvement after breathing treatments, like your child’s inhaler
If the above, more severe symptoms are present in your child, you should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
“Noticing the signs of a flare-up is crucial because it can save a life and prevent hospitalization. But, it is important to take even mild symptoms seriously. Asthma flare-ups, if left untreated, can progress to be more life-threatening and may even lead to intubation,” said Prairie.
So, when your child starts to show signs of an asthma flare-up, don’t wait. Make sure to follow your child’s asthma action plan.
Treating and preventing flare-ups
An asthma action plan can help you manage your child’s asthma and help you determine what to do in the event of an asthma flare-up. Since every child is different, their asthma action plans may be different as well.
“An asthma action plan is an individualized plan that I, as their child’s doctor, usually develop with the parents based on their child’s symptoms. The plan provides clear instruction on how to detect and respond to changes in a child’s breathing pattern,” said Prairie.
Your child’s asthma action plan can help you identify common triggers for your child to avoid, how to identify an asthma flare-up, and what to do when one strikes. It also serves as a guideline for when to take your child to the hospital for further assessment and care.
“Asthma action plans are key to reducing the need for acute care visits and helps keep your child out of the hospital. It also helps keep the guessing out of managing a flare-up. An action plan provides clear instructions to you, as the parent, or your child’s caregiver, on how to reach me during asthma flare-ups,” said Prairie.
To prevent flare-ups, you should first try to notice a pattern of triggers in your child and then work to avoid those triggers. You can even keep a daily asthma diary and record things like the trigger, the date and time, the location, symptoms, and your child’s peak expiratory flow, which measures how well their lungs are working.
“Following the action plan as directed by your child’s doctor, and having asthma well-controlled in the first place, will also prevent flare-ups. Having routine follow-up with a doctor to discuss bothersome symptoms or changes in symptoms will also help,” said Prairie.
Prairie practices at the Family Care Center of Mooresville, located on the second floor of Iredell Mooresville at 653 Bluefield Road. She treats patients of all ages, infants to seniors. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Prairie for yourself or for your child, please call the office at 704-360-6580.