Asthma’s Impact on Children & Adolescents: An Interview with Mike Tringale, MSM, of the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America
Mike Tringale, MSM, is the Director of External Affairs at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), a not-for-profit organization founded in 1953. AAFA provides information, community-based services and support through a national network of chapters and support groups. They develop health education, organize state and national advocacy efforts and fund research to find better treatments and cures for allergies and asthma. AAFA is also partnering with a physician-led international research organization on the development of the “asthma friendly” Certification Program – the first of its kind in the US to write, publish and apply product standards for a variety of “asthma friendly” consumer products. We recently spoke with Tringale about the impact asthma has on the health and wellbeing of children, adolescents and families.
Q. What is asthma, and how is it diagnosed?
A. Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness, all leading to difficult breathing. An asthma attack occurs when the airways in your lungs become constricted, inflamed or clogged with mucus, making it difficult to breathe and reducing the amount of air that gets in and out. Researchers don’t yet understand all the causes of asthma, and it can be difficult to diagnose, especially in children under five years of age. Regular physical check-ups that include checking lung function and monitoring for allergies can help healthcare providers make the correct diagnosis as early as possible. A family history of asthma and allergies can be an indicator. A lung function test using a spirometer can measure the largest amount of air an individual can exhale after taking a very deep breath, which can help with early and accurate diagnosis.
Q. To what degree does asthma affect children and adolescents?
A. Asthma affects people of all ages, but typically begins in childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asthma is a major public health problem whose prevalence has doubled in the past two decades. Asthma prevalence among children has increased by an average of 4.3 percent per year, and the number of children dying from asthma increased almost threefold between 1979 and 1996. The condition accounts for 14 million missed school days annually and is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15.
Q. Is there a way to prevent asthma or cure it?
A. There is no cure for asthma, but there are many ways to prevent asthma symptoms for people who suffer from this disease. There our good daily “controller” medications that help to control and prevent asthma symptoms before attacks occur, and there are “quick-relief” medications to use if an attack does happen. It’s important to work with a doctor to make a custom asthma management plan. Children and adolescents who have the condition can still lead quality, productive lives if they control their asthma. Healthcare providers and the parents of children with asthma need to work closely together on a management plan, and then follow it consistently. Parents and other child caregivers also need to be educated about the importance of avoiding contact with known environmental “triggers” for asthma attacks.
Q. How can parents and other child caregivers help prevent asthma attacks and lessen the severity of attacks?
A. Children with asthma may be particularly sensitive to irritants (such as strong odors, chemical smells, pollution, cold air and smoke) and allergens (such as pet dander, pollen, mold and dust mites) at home, school or other places. Eliminating the things that seem to be triggering attacks can help prevent attacks or lessen your asthma symptoms. With the help of a healthcare provider, parents and caregivers can learn to recognize the patterns of exposure that may be linked to more frequent or more severe asthma attacks, and can work to reduce or eliminate those triggers from a child’s environment.
Q. What are some of the special concerns for infants who have asthma?
A. Educating parents about the condition and empowering them to watch for the warning signs of an attack, which may vary from baby to baby, is very important. Parents of infants with asthma will work with their healthcare provider to understand that because their systems are undergoing rapid development, their symptoms may change from minor to severe in a short amount of time. With their healthcare provider, parents can be armed with the information they need to seek emergency help in a timely way, and to avoid common pitfalls such as giving an infant over-the-counter medications that have not been directed by a healthcare provider.
Q. Are there special issues for adolescents who have this condition?
A. The most significant issue for adolescents who have asthma is their increasing responsibility for the management of their own health, including the management of this condition. Older children and adolescents must learn to care for themselves and to follow their management plan with less and less supervision over time, which can pose some challenges. Children who have moderate or severe asthma begin this process of self-responsibility early on, since they typically need to learn to use a peak flow meter to monitor the quality of their breathing.
Q. Are some children and adolescents at increased risk for asthma?
A. Yes. According to CDC data, children living in inner cities and those from low-income families experience disproportionately higher rates of asthma and higher mortality rates related to the condition. There is also a link between asthma and allergies, and individuals who have allergies are more likely to also have asthma. The data also tell us that more boys have asthma than girls, but that in adulthood, more women have asthma than men. And although the condition affects people of all races, African Americans are more likely than Caucasians to be hospitalized for asthma attacks and to die from complications related to the condition.
Q. How can HMHB’s colleagues and partners in maternal-child health make an impact on asthma’s effect on children, adolescents and their families?
A. Professionals who work in the MCH field can share an educational message with parents, caregivers and colleagues that asthma is a serious public health concern and that early diagnosis and treatment are essential to managing it. We can encourage parents who observe their child having breathing problems to see a healthcare practitioner without delay, and we can let them know how essential it is to follow a management plan consistently. We can also share a message of hope, letting parents and kids know that asthma is treatable and can be successfully managed for a healthy, happy and active life.
For more information: Visit www.aafa.org for free educational information about asthma and allergies, as well as the website of the CDC’s National Asthma Control Program and the National Center for Environmental Health, which provides resources for professionals and the public: www.cdc.gov/asthma.