Poorly controlled asthma in children can significantly interfere with their quality of life. Asthma can limit their day-to-day activities and potentially lead to missed school days, emergency room visits, and hospitalization. Parents and caregivers can make sure they understand their child’s asthma treatment plans by asking the right questions and getting information from their child’s doctor.
Treatment of asthma typically consists of maintenance or controller medications (such as an inhaled corticosteroid) taken every day to control symptoms, as well as quick-relief or rescue medications (such as albuterol) to treat periodic asthma attacks.
Asking your doctor the right questions can help you manage your child’s asthma and make sure they’re getting the best care. Here are four important topics to discuss at your next appointment.
When talking to your child’s doctor about asthma treatment, discuss the goals for treatment, including how to know whether medications are working. As a caregiver, you need to know when treatments aren’t working well enough and when to contact the doctor about making changes to the treatment plan. Make sure to tell the doctor how your child is responding to their current treatment, especially how frequently they need to use quick-relief medicines, such as rescue inhalers.
Always be honest with your doctor about missing doses or not following medical guidance. It can be embarrassing to admit, but your doctor needs to know if your child is not following the treatment plan.
Additionally, make sure to report any problems with taking asthma medicines. For example, if your child is having trouble using an inhaler, they may not be getting an effective dose of medication, which can lead to more symptoms. In this case, they may not need a change to their treatment plan, but simply more training.
Parents and caregivers need to understand their child’s asthma medications. Children must also recognize and understand how to use their own medications. This is especially true for older children who carry their own inhalers.
You may be surprised at how quickly a child can learn about and understand their treatment, even at a very young age. Include your child in the discussion with their doctor about their medications.
When talking with your child’s doctor, make sure you know the names of any prescribed asthma medicines — including both the brand name and the drug name — and what they look like. You should also understand how each medicine is taken. This can include pills, inhalers, or nebulizer treatments. Bring your child’s medications with you to every doctor visit.
Ask the doctor about the dosage (how much to give your child), such as the number of puffs of an inhaler or how much medicine to put into a nebulizer. You should also understand when and how often treatments should be given, including any additional treatments before exercise or physical activity.
Learn about treatments for moderate to severe childhood asthma.
Sit down with your child’s doctor or a nurse and discuss each medication one by one. Some inhalers may look similar but have different uses. For example, powder inhalers have special instructions.
You and your child should know how to operate each inhaler. This includes when and how to prime a new inhaler before use and how to properly use the spacer that attaches to some inhalers. You may also need to know how to operate a nebulizer machine, as well as how to properly attach tubing and use a mask. Ask how and when to clean inhalers, spacers, and nebulizers.
Don’t forget to discuss when and how to use a peak flow meter, including how to clean it. A peak flow meter can tell you if your child is having a bad asthma day or an asthma episode. Just as checking blood sugar levels is important for people with diabetes, using a peak flow meter is important for children with asthma (who are old enough).
Work with your doctor to determine your child’s “personal best” flow meter reading. This number will tell you how to interpret daily readings. Discuss how to use the peak flow meter as part of your child’s asthma action plan.
An asthma action plan is more than a detailed treatment plan. It includes information about what medications to take and when to take them, as well as how to identify and treat acute asthma flare-ups and asthma emergencies. An asthma action plan is not just for you and your child — it’s also for all caregivers, including school staff.
Learn more about preparing your child to return to school after an asthma attack.
When talking to your child’s doctor, make a detailed, written asthma action plan that can be shared with your child’s school or child care center and anyone else caring for your child, such as a babysitter.
Everyone involved in your child’s care must be able to:
Asthma action plans are typically broken down into zones:
Zones are determined by peak flow readings and a child’s asthma symptoms. The zone a child is in helps clarify what activities they can do and what type of medical care they need.
An asthma action plan includes several pieces of key information:
Additional information can include a list of a child’s asthma triggers and allergies, as well as tips for avoiding allergen exposure.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a sample asthma action plan form.
If you are not satisfied with your child’s doctor, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. Doing so can give you peace of mind that your child is getting the best possible care. There are many reasons to seek a second opinion, including being unsure that asthma is the correct diagnosis, feeling the treatment plan is not working, or not having a good working relationship with your child’s doctor.
When it comes to caring for your child, there are no stupid questions. Make sure to discuss any concerns about your child’s asthma treatment with your health care team.
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