Parents have been out of breath with lots of questions about whether or not their child might have asthma. Let me see if I can provide some information on this topic to make everyone breathe easier.

Asthma affects only 10 to 15 percent of students in grade school, but it is the number-one reason why children miss school. What is it? When children with asthma are exposed to certain conditions, their lungs become swollen and inflamed, making breathing difficult. Conditions and exposures that can trigger an asthma episode include exercise, colds, tobacco smoke, cold temperatures, dust, pollen and pets. Asthma symptoms can include coughing, a high-pitched wheezing noise, and tightness in the chest.

If you think your child has asthma, please arrange a visit to his or her health-care professional. They will listen to your child’s lungs and take one or more of these steps:

— Measure how easily they can breathe out;

— Make sure the wheezing is not due to a toy or food that went down the wrong pipe;

— Try a medication given via a nebulizer, or more likely inhaled through an inhaling device; the medication may reduce the narrowing of the airway and improve breathing;

— If wheezing persists, a steroid medication or other types of “asthma controller” medications may be prescribed;

— You may also be asked to try and control the environmental triggers that can make the wheezing worse.

Your child’s health-care professional will help you to create an asthma action plan that can be shared at school. The plan will help everyone know what to do if your child begins to have trouble breathing. It is also a great idea to have the teachers teach everyone in the class about asthma. This way, other students can understand the problem. Hopefully, that understanding will prevent them from treating your child any differently because she or he has a chronic illness.

It’s important to learn about this illness and follow the asthma action plan. That way, your child will be able to participate in all activities, including sports at school. Children with asthma lead an otherwise normal life, just like their friends who do not have asthma. Families can learn more about asthma through their health-care professional or the American Lung Association at 1-800 LUNG-USA.

Hopefully, tips like these will be easy to wheeze through, I mean breeze through, when it comes to understanding asthma.

Dr. Lewis First is chief of pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

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