Historically, asthma has been looked upon as a disease of weakness. Sadly, this misunderstanding persists today among some people. This belief is a myth. Asthma is a chronic illness of the lungs. One need not look very far to find examples of strong leaders, athletes and others vigorous individuals who have been afflicted with asthma and yet excelled in their lives.
What exactly happens in the lungs with asthma? We know that genetic as well as external factors play a role in causing asthma, but research has not yet explained why asthma affects one person and not another. We do know that several key reactions occur in the lungs. First, the airways are twitchy and respond in an exaggerated manner to various triggers such as allergens, smoke, air pollution, and strong odors. The smooth muscle in the airway wall contracts and narrows at the presence of a trigger. Next, asthmatic lungs become inflamed and produce an overabundance of mucus. This chain of reactions make it difficult to breathe and produce coughing and wheezing.
Knowing all this, the cornerstone of bringing your or your child’s asthma under control lies in preventing exposure to your asthma triggers in the first place. Although there are general asthma triggers, each individual is unique, and the first step is to identify the triggers associated with your child. By reviewing your past experiences with asthma, you should be able to identify key triggers. If you are the parent of a child with asthma, my experience has shown that you are already quite savvy when it comes to this. As experts in your children, you may have already associated critical triggers with worsening asthma. If you need additional help evaluating triggers, speak with your pediatrician or an asthma and allergy specialist.
Here are some strategies you might pursue to avoid asthma triggers:
- Pets: If you know that cats or dogs trigger your child’s asthma, having one in your home can be a major problem; visiting family or friends with animals that are known triggers for you can also be problematic. Know that simply keeping the pets out of sight is not enough since these allergens may remain present and active six to 12 months after an animal is out of the home.
- Air pollution: Ozone is a common pollution component, and when levels are elevated, such as on hot, windless days in urban areas, restricting outdoor activities becomes a must. The EPA’s websitehas helpful information on ozone. Respiratory infections can act as triggers, especially the influenza virus. This is why the influenza vaccine is recommended yearly for everyone with asthma.
- Smoke: Cigarette smoke is an obvious trigger to avoid, but even smoke from campfires and barbecue grills can spark an attack and must be avoided. That does not mean you can’t camp out or enjoy an afternoon barbecue – just be aware of the smoke and stay upwind!
One final thought. Others may judge you as being too uptight or overprotective of your child when you are diligent about avoiding triggers. Ignore it. By avoiding triggers you can avoid an asthma attack. Your actions in the moment can make the difference between a peaceful night at home and a crazy rush to the ER. Stick to your guns!