Let me start by saying it. Asthma stinks. Really, really stinks. I’ve had it all my life, and my sweet daughter now has it. I hate that she has to go through the same things that I’ve endured since childhood — the late night asthma attacks, guessing when you should go to the emergency room, and constant coughing and wheezing and various treatments.
But, like anything else, eventually you can get into a groove as an asthma mom. Here are a few key tips that have helped me through this experience:
Find a physician with whom you can partner. I found a physician I adore, who listens to me and takes me seriously. He takes my calls after hours and is serious about helping my child thrive. I feel like I’m part of a team who is making decisions together to help my daughter live a healthy life in spite of her asthma. I never feel rushed, and he always answers my questions, which is important because asthma kids are sick ALL THE TIME, so I spend a lot of time at the doctor’s office.
Never apologize for advocating for your child. I’m the one who is there for the late-night asthma attacks. I know her symptoms, what works and what doesn’t, the triggers, and the severity. My daughter went through a season where we had to repeatedly treat her with oral steroids, which I knew was bad for her little body. I pushed and pushed my doctor to put her on a daily preventative treatment, and he listened. And it helped. If he hadn’t listened, I would have found a new doctor. I have also pushed for things like having emergency steroids on-hand for nights and weekends when she gets sick so we can avoid a trip to the emergency room and stabilize her before seeing our regular doctor on Monday morning. I also frequently call his nurse and ask questions to avoid unnecessary doctor visits.
Find non-medical strategies to help manage symptoms. Medication is important, but during an acute attack, sometimes medication isn’t enough to calm my child down. In addition to my child’s daily preventative medicine and her rescue inhaler, I have a few asthma tricks that help bring her relief when paired with her inhaler:
- Run a hot shower and sit in the steamy bathroom. I let my daughter watch videos on my phone as the steam helps open up her lungs.
- Stand in front of the freezer and inhale the cold air (or on a cold night, sit outside). Sometimes cold can help open an airway.
- For older kids, give them caffeine. I’m not about to give my toddler a cup of coffee, but if your kiddo is a little older (or if you’re an adult with asthma), caffeine can help open the airway and calm breathing.
- Wash your child’s hair. If allergies trigger attacks, then making sure your child goes to bed with clean hair can help eliminate some of the asthma triggers.
- Stay calm. This applies to you as well as your child. Anxiety can make asthma attacks worse, so find something to calm your child. For my daughter, simply rocking her until her attack has passed, or playing her favorite video on my phone, helps distract her from the actual attack and can help calm her breathing.
Have an emergency plan. Deciding when to go to the ER is the scariest part of asthma. It’s the same with my own adult asthma; it can escalate quickly, and you don’t want to wait until it’s REALLY BAD before heading to the ER. But, you also don’t want to waste a $1,000 ER visit on an asthma attack that will get better on its own. The decision is even tougher when it’s for my toddler, who can’t tell me how bad things are. I have to go entirely by the clues her body gives me. For me, it’s the scariest thing I’ve experienced as a mom, because making the wrong decision can be devastating.
I sat down with her doctor a long time ago and asked him to help me understand exactly when I should take her to the ER for treatment, and when it’s safe to bring her to his office. He gave me specific guidelines to help me as I make that very tough decision. In the past year, we’ve only had to go to the ER once, although there have been several times when I came very close to throwing her in my car and heading there, just in case. As an asthma mom, never feel guilty about being too cautious.
Practice with your child. Breathing treatments are terrifying to toddlers at first. You’re supposed to hold a mask to their face and get them to breathe normally? For us, the first few times consisted of my sweet child screaming in terror while my husband held down her arms and legs and I held the mask to her face. It was traumatic for everybody. Then I started letting her play with the face mask from her inhaler, and it got less scary. I also “give” her stuffed animals her inhaler before giving it to her (in non-emergent situations, of course). This makes her feel comfortable and makes the whole experience less frightening.
Asthma is scary. Being an asthma mom is hard. But I have also experienced such sweet moments, rocking her in the middle of the night through an attack, sitting in the bathroom floor watching Barney videos while she inhales the steam, keeping her calm when she’s scared. That’s what motherhood is all about: Being brave and strong for your child and helping her to thrive when she can’t do it by herself. I know asthma isn’t going to hold my daughter back, and it’s a privilege to help her conquer it.