Talking About Asthma
One out of every seven kids in America has asthma. To help parents with asthmatic children, we spoke with Dr. James L. Sublett and Jo Frost (better known as Supernanny, from her TV show by the same name) about their involvement in the Time 2 Talk Asthma campaign.
Parent & Child: How can parents help their asthmatic child have a full and active childhood?
Jo Frost: I think it's very important for parents to understand that a good attitude and good communication between their pediatrician and their child allows them to put an immediate plan of action in place, which is what the Time 2 Talk campaign is all about. I feel that, once parents have opened up those plans of action, they can learn to control their child’s asthma and begin to feel empowered as parents as well. Most certainly we want our children to live full and active lives, and we need to recognize that there are things we can do toward preventing flare-ups beforehand.
P&C: What steps should parents take when raising an asthmatic child?
Frost: A written care plan is an important thing to put in place. Having that plan allows a child to recognize on a consistent level when medication needs to be taken, so that they can learn to take preventative action. It’s also important to look out for trigger symptoms at home and outside so you can make sure that your child isn’t going to be around things like tobacco smoke. Look out for cleaning solutions that can trigger asthma. Bedding can be problem, too, because asthma [can be] triggered by allergies. Your child may be going to summer camp, or having a play date, or going to a sleep over. Make sure you have a conversation with another child’s parents about what they need to look out for, what they need to do when they see those signs, and of course the obvious thing would be an emergency number as well. This information allows the parent to have that peace of mind that allows their child to do the things that we would expect any child to do.
P&C: What is your personal history with asthma?
Frost: At the age of 5 I was diagnosed with asthma and straightaway my parents spoke to my pediatrician and discussed medications to prevent it from getting worse, because, you know, I was very active, I played netball, and I did the 100 meter sprint for my county. Now, I go to the gym, I like to run, I am very active. As an adult I know what I need to do. It’s not about thinking, “What do we have to do that restricts our child?” or “How are we going to get past this?” It’s about “How are we going to manage it?”
Now, as an adult, I am very confident in what I do; you’ll see me helping families for the sixth season of Supernanny on October 16. I always have my medication on board, and the people who surround me all know the plan of action. I’m able to thrive. Now we have this information to give to parents so they can help their child do such things as well.
P&C: So you believe that children with asthma should be allowed to play sports?
Dr. James L. Sublett: Unfortunately, a lot of parents unintentionally restrict their child. They may not let their children play sports or, if they do, it will generally be a position that doesn’t require as much physical activity as other positions. It’s important that we have the expectation that child asthmatics can do anything any other child can do. It’s important that we have a level of communication with the child’s teachers and coaches. Make sure they understand that if your child has a flare-up of their asthma during the sports program, they have ways to manage that.
P&C: How does asthma develop and generally at what age is it diagnosed?
Dr. Sublett: Most asthma starts in childhood. Jo would be a very good example of that. Usually it’s very diagnosable around the age of 4 or 5. Often it will start with allergies like food allergies or upper respiratory allergies. By the time kids reach school-age we can do lung function tests that allow us to give accurate diagnoses.
Frost: My parents began to notice the symptoms when I was very young. They recognized that in the winter I would get colds and I would have more mucus, eczema, and little things like that. The information available for download on the site for Time 2 Talk Asthma is really about becoming more aware of those signs and knowing what to put in place so you really do feel that you can learn to manage it and not suffer.
P&C: What would you say to children who have asthma at a young age?
Frost: I would talk to them about it. Communicating with your child and having a really simple age-appropriate conversation about their asthma allows them to realize what they have without scaring them. One doesn’t have to go into the complications of “the worst of.” One needs to talk about the medications that they’re taking and allow them to be a part of that process with their pediatrician so that what we’re doing is enabling our child as they become older to start taking care of themselves. A really good, positive attitude is so important. But this is not only for the child who has asthma; it’s also for the siblings as well. It might be one child that has asthma, but a whole family is of concern in making sure that you can manage it. There have certainly been circumstances in my own life as a nanny where I have looked after children who had asthma, and the sibling recognized those signs and came up to me and said, “Billy is in the playroom and he is a little bit short of breath.” Then, straightaway, an immediate plan of action is in place. It’s necessary.
For more information about raising a child with asthma visit www.Time2TalkAsthma.com.
Lindsay Smith is an intern with Scholastic Parent & Child.