Asthma care for children

Published: September, 2005

It can be downright scary to witness your child suffering from an asthma attack. As they struggle to breathe you may feel helpless until you reach the emergency room or the rescue medication begins to work. This traditional way of dealing with asthma - reacting to flare-ups as opposed to preventing them - can be frustrating. More than one of these experiences may prompt you to search for a better way to help your child manage his or her asthma.

Studies in adults are showing that a proactive, preventive approach works better than a reactive one at helping asthma sufferers control their symptoms. To determine whether the same is true in children, researchers in Australia recently conducted a study comparing the effects of proactive care to those of traditional routine on the symptoms of asthmatic children. The proactive approach included three or more doctor-prompted pre-scheduled visits during a month when the child was well. During appointments, the doctor discussed with the child his or her understanding of asthma, reviewed the proper use of inhalers and inhalation devices, and developed a written action plan.

The results of the study showed the proactive approach helped children manage their asthma better than routine care. Far fewer children in the intervention group used rescue medication more than four times a week compared to children in the control group (9% compared to 30%). Children who received proactive care also had fewer visits to the emergency room for their asthma and less speech-limiting wheezing than children who did not. As a result of what they had learned, these children were more likely to use metered-dose inhalers with spacers, which allow more medication to reach the lungs.

Even so, the number of symptom-free days and days missed from school did not differ between the two groups. This may suggest, however, that the children in the proactive group and their parents were more aware of and more cautious about asthma symptoms. Children in the proactive group did perform higher in measures of lung capacity, meaning they had better control of their asthma. So while proactive measures do not eliminate asthma, they do appear to improve management.

To help your child manage his or her asthma, talk with your doctor about scheduling a visit to discuss asthma when your child is well. With an understanding of asthma and how to properly use medications, your child will be better able to manage and reduce the effects of this chronic disease.

March 2004 Update

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.