Taking Control of Asthma

Taking Control of Asthma

September 2015


About 17 million Americans have asthma, of whom about 5 million are children. Some children outgrow their asthma in their teen years, says UW Medicine Physician Dr. Doreen Kiss. However, for many, asthma is a life-long, chronic condition that requires careful management.“What I tell young people who develop asthma is that it’s not like a cold that comes one day and then goes away — asthma is a chronic disease. It may disappear for a while, but it tends to flare up again. Once you develop asthma, you are likely to have it for years, if not for life,” says Kiss, a pediatrician who practices at the UW Neighborhood ClinicsKent/Des Moines.

Controlling asthma

The good news is that asthma is treatable. “We now have medicines that work very, very well and have few side effects. Most of the kids I see with asthma do very well and lead very normal lives,” she says. “The important thing for a child or a young person with asthma to remember is that because it is chronic, you need to take your medicine every day, even when you feel well,” Kiss says.

That can be a challenge for many young people. “It’s easy, when you start feeling better, to think you don’t have asthma anymore and stop taking your medicine. But what you see is all the symptoms coming back, and patients often get in to a cycle of recurrent asthma flare ups,” says Kiss. “So it’s important to take your medicine every, single day — that will keep the asthma away.”

Signs and symptoms of asthma

“It is also important for patients to learn to recognize the symptoms that tell them their asthma is getting out of control. The most common symptom is a cough, especially at night. Often there’s no reason for it. You’re not sick, you don’t have a cold, but you find yourself coughing,” says Kiss.

Other warning signs of worsening asthma include shortness of breath, often with exercise, but especially shortness of breath at night, waking up short of breath, for instance. “Those are the classic symptoms of an asthma flare,” she says.

Don’t delay treatment

“Patients and their families need to pay attention to these warning signs because an asthma attack can be very serious, even life-threatening. Also, it’s far better to treat asthma early because the sooner you treat it, the easier it is to control."

“Waiting to see if the asthma will go away is a common mistake,” Kiss says, “The longer you wait, the harder it is to get asthma under control again and the greater the risk of a serious asthma attack.”

Managing asthma as a family

“To help manage a child’s asthma, we draw up an action plan that the family can use to manage the asthma at home. It’s a written plan that says, 'If this, then do this.' We feel if we can educate the family about how to recognize the symptoms of asthma and how to use the asthma medicines properly, the better their child with asthma will do,” says Kiss. “For us, managing asthma is all about educating the family and the child on how to manage asthma to eliminate symptoms, prevent flare ups and allow the child to lead a normal, active life.”

To find a healthcare provider that can help diagnose and treat asthma, call 855.520.5151.

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