Breathe easy: Tips to allay symptoms of child asthmaPediatric asthma is painful for children and distressing for parents. Watching a child wheeze and cough is a heartbreaking experience.
At the end of last month, an international symposium on pediatric asthma was held at the COEX convention center in Seoul, attended by representatives of Hallym University and Yongdong Severance Hospital in Korea. International delegates attended from Columbia and Cornell Universities in the United States. Dr. Robert Merlins from Columbia University, Dr. Lee Hae-ran from Hallym Medical Center and Dr. Kim Kyu-earn from Yongdong Severance Hospital gave some guidelines for young children with asthma, and their parents.
More than one in five Korean children suffer from asthma and that number has tripled since 1980. The complaint is linked to pollution, the use of powdered milk, eating fast foods, which are often heavily processed, and allergens such as dust, dust mites and microscopic insect fragments.
Dr. Merlins identified a connection between asthma and child obesity. “We don’t know the cause, but there is a strong correlation between obesity and asthma,” he said. “Obese children, especially those who have a fat upper body, tend to get little exercise and activity and as a result, they have a low lung capacity. To prevent asthma or relieve asthma symptoms, children need to first lose weight.”
He added that spending $1 on educating asthma patients can save $11 in medical expenses and that the effects of education are clearly visible with asthma patients. Dr. Merlins said it is necessary to teach children the nature of asthma and why it needs to be treated in order to motivate sufferers to seek treatment.
Children with asthma can be taught how treatment could enhance their physical abilities. For example, he said, children who like to play soccer should be told that taking asthma medicine will help them breathe more easily when they exercise.
Asthma education should continually be reinforced. Children with asthma must be told frequently that they should avoid pets, fast foods and allergens. They need to know that when helping clean their classrooms, they should avoid sweeping but instead offer to wipe down surfaces.
Education on how to effectively use asthma medicines, which are mostly steroid based, can help reduce the use of the drugs as well as the side effects from using such medicines.
“Koreans use pills much more than inhalants, thus they are consuming more steroids,” Dr. Kim said.
Parents often avoid encouraging their asthmatic children to exercise because they worry that exercise will aggravate the child’s symptoms.
“It is important for even young asthma patients to participate in sports with friends and, if problems occur, they should consult a doctor,” Dr. Lee said.
Exercise can help improve lung capacity, which makes it easier to avoid and recover from an asthma attack.
Doctors especially recommend swimming for children, as it takes place in a moist environment that is less likely to aggravate asthma. Children should also be taught to be optimistic about their condition.
“After all, Olympic gold medalist [runner] Jackie Joyner-Kersee was once an asthma patient,” Dr. Merlins said.
Pediatric asthma is generally easier to treat than the adult form. “Pediatric asthma is usually caused by allergens, for which medicines are very effective,” Dr. Lee said. “Airways enlarge when children grow up and this relieves their asthma symptoms.”
The three doctors agreed that even children with asthma can live normal lives if they seek proper treatment.
“Only 8 percent of young asthma patients grow up to experience more serious symptoms and continue to take medicines,” Dr. Lee said.
How to alleviate asthma
* Pediatric asthma needs early diagnosis and treatment. Once the airway becomes malformed, it cannot return to a normal condition.
* Just as diabetes patients should check their blood sugar level regularly, asthmatics need to check their peak flow rate one to three times a day.
* Allergens should be removed wherever possible. According to a survey, 80 percent of houses in Korea contain dust mites.
* Asthma medications should be taken regularly, as prescribed.
* In case of an attack, the sufferer and family members need to be aware of emergency contact numbers and treatment methods.
* Pollens are a major causes of allergy so reduce outdoor activities when they are around.
* Steroid inhalants and anti-leukotriene medications are considered safe and do not cause growing problems.
by Park Tae-kyun