This is a guest blog by renowned pulmonologist Dr. Vikram Jaggi.
Having treated kids with asthma and dealing with the fears and worries of their parents for over 25 years, here are some of my observations and suggestions for the parents.
Parents of asthmatic children worry a lot. They worry about the fact that their child has to take medicine every day. They worry about the side effects of medicines, especially if they are inhaled steroids. They worry when the child has symptoms and misses school, and they fear acute attacks. They worry when they read in the newspapers that asthmatic children can die of an attack of asthma. It’s not only about a disease but also about the emotions involved. Actually, they need not. Here is my advice to parents of children who have asthma.
Parents don’t like to be told that their child has asthma. Doctors also know this. So they couch the diagnosis in nicer-sounding words such as 'allergy' or 'bronchitis' or 'chest congestion'. This only delays proper treatment. So my sincere advice is to accept the diagnosis and then start looking for practical and doable solutions.
Have you noticed how the parents' attitude and feelings are imbibed by the children? If the mother is constantly critical of the maid, the child also starts saying, “Ayah is bad.” Or if the father says “Oh my poor baby, you have to wear spectacles at such a young age," the child also resents wearing glasses rather than feeling happy about the fact that he or she can now see clearly with them! The same is the case with asthma, asthma medications and particularly with inhalers. If the parent's constant refrain is “When will be able to stop these inhalers? – the child will also view them negatively. If, on the other hand, the parents show gratitude and happiness over the fact that there is a device that is so easy to use and really helps the child to breathe normally, the same positive feelings will be imbibed by the child.
Some children do outgrow their asthma. Some don’t. It is largely determined by the genes over which we don’t have control. Yes, environmental control and diet regulation helps. If the child is to outgrow asthma, it will happen over a period of years and not days, weeks or months. With proper medications, the asthmatic child is usually well controlled to the extent that there are no ongoing symptoms or limitations of activities. However, with a change of season or with a virus infection, some symptoms will appear. This is not unexpected. A slight increase in medications will usually bring things back under normal control.
Alternative systems such as yoga, homeopathy, ayurveda and naturopathy do have something to offer to help asthmatics. They don’t help all patients. They don’t help all patients equally. If you have faith, you could try them. But my advice would be to not to stop the normal treatment suddenly.
Care yes, pampering no
Mothers sometimes try to overcompensate the asthmatic child by over pampering him or her. This never helps. In fact, it creates further difficulties in that the child starts using the asthma, sometimes sub-consciously, to get his or her way.
The asthmatic child gets out of breath easily and, thus, is usually never really 'into sports'. But with proper control of asthma, the child can and should have a normal life, including participation in sports. This should be encouraged. It is very good for the child’s self-esteem. Sports involving spurts of activity are usually better tolerated than prolonged exertion such as long-distance running. Swimming is usually good.
Partnership with the doctor
Sometimes, anger or frustration, related to the diagnosis of asthma is misdirected towards the doctor. But really, the doctor is part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. Be friends with the doctor. Trust him. That way, the doctor will be able to help your child better.