Growing Up With Asthma

side profile of teen boy smiling( — When your asthmatic child hits the teen years, you will both face new challenges. Coping with asthma is no different from dealing with other aspects of an asthmatic teen’s life — independence becomes important but parental support is still needed. The key to successfully moving through this phase of your teen’s life, and to keep their asthma under control, is to work together, remember that it may take time and practice, and be patient.

What You Can Do to Help Your Asthmatic Teen

There are a number of practical steps you can take to begin transitioning the responsibility for caring for their own health and managing their asthma treatment over to teens. To begin, you need to:

• Work with your teen on an asthma action plan. If you have not previously involved your child in developing a personal asthma action plan, do so now. Carefully go over asthma symptoms and warning signs with your asthmatic teen. Let them know what they should do if they start to wheeze, cough, or feel short of breath. Knowing what to do gives teens a sense of control, says Michael Mellon, M.D, clinical professor of pediatrics, University of California, San Diego, CA, and chairman, Pediatric Asthma Task Force for the San Diego Kaiser Region.

• Let your asthmatic teen have a say. According to the guidelines developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, it is very important to include your asthmatic teen’s preferences and school schedule in this plan. “The action plan will spell out the steps of treatment if asthma symptoms begin. There are control questions such as, ‘Does asthma awaken you at night?’ or ‘Does asthma limit your exercise?’ that tells parents and teens if their asthma is being controlled and when they should contact the doctor to increase preventive asthma treatment,” says Dr. Mellon.

• Emphasize the importance of asking for help. Remind your teen that he or she should always ask for help (instead of taking more medicine!) if symptoms do not improve despite following the action plan and taking the medication as prescribed.

• Continue to keep watch. Whatever your child’s preferences, you should still monitor your asthmatic teen’s health and medication. “Teens need a daily routine that allows them to take their preventive medication as prescribed. Parents must be involved to ensure this occurs since most teens are not organized enough to take daily meds when they are feeling well, as is required in asthma treatment,” says Mellon.

• Be creative with reminders. With a little imagination, you can find ways to remind your asthmatic teen about things like taking medication on time without sounding like you’re nagging. One great idea for empowering your asthmatic teen: Preprogram a cell phone or watch with alarms that signal medication times, says Wayne Katon, MD, professor and vice chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle, WA.

• Schedule doctor’s visits. “Routine visits to the doctor for monitoring are mandatory,” says Mellon. Don’t leave it up to your teen to make those appointments.

• Fill out the necessary paperwork for medication at school. Your signature still has to be on the school forms, even as your teen takes on more responsibility for his asthma care. What Your Asthmatic Teen

Can Do

It is also important for your teen to avoid situations and factors that can cause an asthma attack.

Depending on your teen’s specific asthma triggers this might mean:

• Not allowing friends to smoke around him
• Limiting his time at the house of a friend who has cats
• Keeping his room clean
• Hanging up wet towels and clothes and cleaning up spills before mold can grow
• Washing clothes and bedding regularly
• Using an inhaler before working out

Your asthmatic teen should also learn to clean inhalers regularly and remember that they are under pressure (so they should never leave them in a hot car or close to sources of heat, for instance).

Neither you nor your teen should expect things to run perfectly during the transition into independence. But with communication and commitment, your asthmatic teen can gradually take on more responsibility for their own asthma control.

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