Empowering Kids to Take Charge of Their Asthma
I have been a respiratory therapist for 17 years. I knew from the time I was a child that this is what I wanted my career and life’s passion to be. From ages 10-13, I attended a summer camp for kids with asthma. I have very fond memories of my time at asthma camp and having the asthma education children need. The fun times and experiences stuck with me over the years. I was so empowered at camp when it came to taking charge of my own asthma that I knew I wanted to spend my career helping others just like me.
Start with basic age-appropriate asthma education for children
Kids learn at different paces and with different styles. Start with the basics. Toddlers won’t really be able to understand what is going on in their lungs and might become fearful when it comes time to take medication, especially nebulizers and inhalers.
A tip for little ones is to toss the nebulizer mask and/or spacer that goes with their inhaler into the toy box. This way they will learn that it's not something to be scared of. Let them play with it and demonstrate how it works with a teddy bear or doll. Then have them give the teddy or doll a breathing treatment. Often times this will really make taking their asthma meds less nerve-wracking for both kids and parents.
For elementary-ish aged kiddos teach the SET mnemonic for what happens to our lungs during an asthma attack. S for swelling of the airways, E for excess mucus in the lungs, and T is that tight feeling that makes it hard to breathe. We teach kids the basic difference between their rescue inhaler (albuterol- Ventolin, ProAir, Proventil) and maintenance inhaler (one they take every day, regardless if they are feeling well or not). Talk about the importance of being open when they aren’t breathing well and tell you or their teachers.
I used to always try to hide my asthma when I was a teen because I didn’t want to stand out or make it seem like I would get special treatment. I had to learn the hard way just how dangerous this can be.
Teens are old enough to really take charge of their asthma treatment. Encourage them to take their medications every day without reminders. Have a chart that they can check off if/when they take their meds as visuals tend to help form that habit. Teenagers don’t always want to talk about their feelings - but keep that line of communication open when it comes to their health. I wasn’t always able to do the physical sports that I wanted to when my asthma was acting up and it helped me tremendously to be able to talk about it with my parents.
Asthma education for children is ongoing
After I graduated college and passed my medical boards, I returned to asthma camp as a medical staff member for over 10 years. Being able to teach asthmatic kids the same things that I learned when I was their age has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. What tips and tricks have you learned to help kids take charge of their asthma? Drop them in the comments!
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