Even though we had our suspicions and weren’t totally surprised, I still remember the devastating feeling that my son’s diagnosis of asthma left me with that day. He had more bouts with pneumonia than some with emphysema by the time he was just 4 years old, got his nebulizer at age 6 months, and had even been tested for cystic fibrosis. Asthma was a much more tolerable and livable condition. However, my Mom Mode went into overdrive as I struggled with how to make sure he had as few asthma attacks as possible, side effects from medications as tolerable, and life interruptions as allowable.
This isn’t meant to be a medical guide to treating your child’s asthma, but instead a Mom and Dad guide for dealing with your own concerns and teaching your child to understand and react to this condition. Asthma is a scary medical condition, but diligent care and the right attitude can make a world of difference. As a parent of a child with asthma, educate yourself about allergens, tricks for healthier living, and empowering your child.
What is allergen free?
When we first received the diagnosis we were instructed to keep his bedroom an “allergen free zone” so that we could more easily determine what my son’s triggers were. For our family that meant
- Limiting stuffed animals to 1 on and near the bed at a time (a challenge for a 4 year old who had received a lifetime’s worth already)
- No furry pets in the bedroom
- Mattresses and pillows protected from the effects of dust mites
- Keeping carpets vacuumed every week and shampooed once a month (had we known beforehand we could have just installed wood flooring)
- Dusting the vertical blinds every week (fortunately we did not have fabric window coverings/curtains)
- Dusting furniture every week
- Using natural cleaning products that didn’t aggravate his breathing
Keep the room allergen free and my family sane.
Living in a busy home with a family of 6 isn’t always conducive to living an allergen free lifestyle, especially when my son shared a bedroom with brothers who wanted their own stuffed animals and their own furry pets. Here are a few tricks that helped keep everyone healthy and happy.
Mattress protectors/covers and allergen guard pillow cases for everyone. It helps keep the bedding cleaner, and doesn’t single out one person in the family as “ill”.
Frozen stuffed animals – not a joke! My son’s pulmonology specialist gave us a great tip as she knew that getting rid of the dozens and dozens of stuffed toys in a home with 4 children 10 and under would be difficult and an emotional train-wreck. Sort through and keep those stuffed toys that really mean something to your kids – but don’t put any pressure on them to do this (again – we don’t want to be singling out anyone with a blame game). Take turns rotating stuffed animals into the freezer for 1-2 weeks at a time, as this kills dust mites and those pesky allergens better than washing – and washing only leaves gross, matted fake fur. We made it a fun ritual and did a whole story about Ice Age Adventures whenever a new stuffed animal would enter the freezer. Those stuffed animals not in the freezer (and the one not on my son’s bed) waited their turn in a suitcase in the closet.
Find alternatives. For us it meant getting our son an aquarium instead of a hamster. For you it might be taking a vacation to the beach instead of a romp through the woods if your child has tree pollen triggers. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do as a family, get excited about the things you can do together. I also investigated certain dietary changes, such as eliminating dairy, to see if they were triggers for my son’s asthma.
Give your child ownership.
Get a peak flow meter, even if your child’s asthma is mild and easily controlled. It is a great teaching device that shows your child and any siblings how lung capacity should be in healthy situations. It also is just one more tool that you and your child have to better understand when he might be in distress. The peak flow meter we received was actually paid for by insurance, and delivered within a week to our home, simply by calling and requesting it from our insurance program. Some doctors have them on hand for patients, and they are available online and through pharmacies.
Asthma can vary in seriousness and severity throughout a person’s lifetime. It is imperative that we give our kids the tools they will need to monitor and care for themselves. For me that meant finding a pulmonologist my son really connected with, and giving my son the responsibility of marking his medication intakes and peak flow meter readings on a chart in the kitchen (I always oversaw this, but he felt in control).
Make sure your child has his emergency inhaler (with a tag for instructions and emergency numbers) when he is out and about without you. If the asthma is severe or your child spends a lot of time away from you, consider an I.D. bracelet.
A diagnosis of asthma for your child can be difficult to accept, as it forces you to think of his life with certain modifications or restrictions, and as parents we want the world to be full of wide open possibilities for our kids. However, with a few sane, easy steps we can make that new journey a little smoother for them and for us. There was a time when my son required multiple treatments each day and couldn’t run without vomiting from coughing. With care and knowledge we have been able to help him manage his asthma so it doesn’t manage him. Last year at the age of 10 he ran his first 5K race, and this year he is training for his first 10K, something I was not confident that coughing young man could ever do. As he crossed the finish line I had tears of joy that came from knowing where he had been, and where he can still go – asthma and all.
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