Wheezing is a common sound in the Oglesby household. Two of Jessica Oglesby’s three children have asthma. Sadly, the Oglesby youngsters have plenty of company.
More than 21 percent of African-American children younger than 18 have been diagnosed with asthma, a rate much higher than that of white children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And black children are more than three times as likely to visit the emergency room as their non-black peers during an asthma attack.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma, a chronic pulmonary condition that causes the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow, is usually diagnosed during childhood and leads to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. The causes of asthma vary, but symptoms can be triggered by changes in weather (most often cold temperatures), dust mites, pet dander, exercise, mold, or pollen. Environmental factors, including tobacco smoke and air pollution, can exacerbate existing asthma symptoms. And exposure to secondhand smoke and air pollution tend to be more prevalent in urban areas and other neighborhoods that are primarily communities of color.
Heading Off Asthma Attacks
So what can be done to protect our babies from this illness?
Oglesby, 32, uses practices suggested by her pediatrician to control her children’s near debilitating asthma attacks. “I try to keep the house dust free. We use an air purifier all the time. We don’t have any pets,” Oglesby says. “And, of course, I make sure Jax and Kori take their meds regularly.” The children, 10 and 6, take an oral steroid medication each day and use both an inhaler and nebulizer as needed.
What Is Your Asthma Action Plan?
Many specialists suggest that parents have an asthma treatment plan, which helps control the disease for which there is no cure. An effective treatment plan will prevent the most nagging symptoms (coughing and shortness of breath), help your child maintain optimal lung function, enable him to maintain a high level of physical activity, reduce the need for quick-relief medication (such as inhaled corticosteroids), and limit emergency room visits and hospital stays.
Physicians suggest these steps to control your child’s asthma:
- Recognize and avoid triggers.
- Track prescribed medications to ensure they are working properly.
- Keep detailed records so you can talk to your child’s pediatrician about symptoms and treatment.
If your child’s treatment isn’t working—characterized by continued symptoms, frequent emergency room visits, lots of inhaler use, or multiple courses of oral steroids—talk to your doctor about a new asthma action plan.
Though asthma may be very common, it needs to be monitored and taken seriously, says Georgia pediatric pulmonologist LeRoy Graham, M.D. “If not managed properly, it can be life threatening,” he says. “It is important for patients to know how to manage chronic inflammation on a daily basis.”
Each day nine Americans die from asthma, and African Americans have the highest mortality rate from the disease. Even if your child feels better, she still has asthma, and probably will for the rest of her life, so taking it seriously is indeed serious business.
—Tamar Leak Suber
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