My Asthmatic Child

I was worried every time he was out of my sight in case he got asthma

What is it like being the parent of an asthmatic?
If you are already a parent, or are planning on becoming one sometime soon, then understanding what it means to have an asthmatic child is something that you need to consider because between 10 – 25% of all children in the western world have asthma. You will no doubt become au fait with common asthma medications such as Ventolin that dilate the airways, and inhaled steroids that reduce inflammation, and you will also become attuned to your child coughing through the night.

I took my baby son to the hospital because he had a cold and I was concerned about his coughing. The doctor who saw Robert said that he had wheezy bronchitis and gave him some Ventolin syrup. By the time he was 18 months old, Robert was diagnosed as an asthmatic, but this did not seem to be a problem because he could run around and do everything that other children did. He coughed a lot, but no one, including his doctors, seemed concerned about that, they just prescribed more Ventolin. By the time that Robert was six, he was taking inhaled steroids every day, and by the time he was twelve we had bought a nebuliser so that he could take very large doses of Ventolin as well. Every few weeks Robert was prescribed a course of Prednisone, which is an oral steroid, and he was also taking antibiotics several times a year. I trusted the doctors and assumed that they were doing their best for our son, and even though the coughing still remained a nightly-occurrence for most of the year, especially in the colder months, I thought that it was just part of the condition.

It was not until Robert was fourteen and we were told that he was taking so many steroids that they could be stunting his growth that we started to question the safety of the treatments. That little bit of Ventolin syrup we had given him as a baby had grown exponentially into enormous amounts of medication, yet he was still coughing. Not only was he still coughing, but also sometimes he was too sick to ride his bike to school. He was getting severely breathless when he played sport and his legs hurt when he ran. We were told that the steroids had weakened his bones and his strong calf muscles were pulling his shinbones apart. Suddenly, the trust that we had in the medical profession began to seriously fall apart.

What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition where the airways become inflamed and narrowed, causing the person to have episodes where it is difficult to breathe. The symptoms of asthma can include a persistent coughing, having a tight-chest, making a wheezy sound when breathing, feeling short of breath, and quietly going blue.

Not all that wheezes is asthma
Not all asthmatics wheeze, and wheezing does not always mean that the person has asthma. An important way for babies and toddlers to deal with germs is to produce copious amounts of mucus. Because of their small stature young children necessarily have tiny airways, and so it is very easy for wheezing to occur when the mucus moves inside the miniature tubes. Even older children can wheeze when they breathe when they have a cold and not asthma.

Allergies are linked to Asthma
In more than 70% of cases allergies are linked to asthma, and so having hay fever or eczema is common with people who have asthma. Post-nasal drip that is associated with hay fever can often cause a cough, and taking asthma medication will not be effective. If your child has asthma medications prescribed, look for an improvement within a week or two. If there is no improvement, then it is possible that asthma is not the problem and more investigation needs to be done.

Causes of asthma
A lot is known about things that trigger the symptoms of asthma but no one is really sure what actually causes asthma in the first place. However, it is generally believed to have a genetic component that predisposes the asthmatic airways to be more sensitive than those of other people. As a result of having this predisposition, the airways over-react to triggers such as cat dander, pollen and cold air, so that after a time the airways become permanently altered by the underlying inflammation.

We were fortunate to hear about the Buteyko method not long after Robert began to have serious health problems. Doctor Konstantin Buteyko developed the Buteyko Breathing Techniques that had been used for fifty years in Russia, but were new to the rest of the world. The techniques include a series of breathing exercises and principles about food, exercise and sleep that aim to normalise the breathing pattern. The exercises are not complicated and so most people who are at least three years of age can learn them, and the principles can be adapted into most lifestyles.

Not seriously expecting that the Buteyko method would help, but because we were by now very worried, we enrolled Robert in a course. To our amazement, he stopped coughing virtually overnight, and we all enjoyed a good night's sleep. By following the program for a few months, Robert got rid of his asthma almost entirely. He has continued to enjoy good health for thirteen years and on the odd occasion that he gets his old symptoms back he can deal with them by doing the Buteyko exercises. This means that Robert doesn't need to take any asthma medication at all, even though he plays competitive sport, mountain-bikes, and parties with the best of them.

The Basics of Buteyko
The first thing that we learned at the Buteyko course was to breathe through the nose. Some people might wonder why you would need to be taught something so basic, yet because the nose is often blocked nasal breathing is not the norm for asthmatics. However, breathing through your nose is paramount to good asthma control because the nose is possibly the best air filter on the planet. The nose filters out dust mites, pollen, germs and other pollutants. At the same time it warms and moistens the air, so that the air arrives in a perfect state at the lungs.

The more a person breathes through their mouth, the harder it is to breathe through the nose, and so at first it takes a little perseverance to reverse the mouth-breathing habit. Try the following Buteyko exercise to unblock your nose:

• After a gentle and easy exhalation close your mouth if it is open and pinch the nostrils closed.
• Walk across the room, taking 10 – 20 steps or until you have the urge to breathe.
• Keep your mouth closed and remove your hand from your nostrils so that you can inhale through your nose.
• Make the breathing gentle and light.

If your nose is still not clear enough to easily breathe through, then repeat the exercise once or twice. Each time remember to keep your mouth closed while you walk and also after you remove your hand unless it is impossible to breathe through your nose. You can use this exercise as often as you need to throughout the day and night to keep your nose clear.

The second thing that we learned at the course was to only use bronchodilators when asthma symptoms are being experienced, because when they are used too often they can make the condition worse.

The third thing learned was if an asthmatic needs medications such as Ventolin more than twice a week, then an inhaled steroid should also be taken. Most people prefer to take bronchodilators rather than steroids, yet by doing the Buteyko exercises and following this approach, it is possible to control your asthma without any medication at all.

Get Asthma Under Control
It is believed that if more people had better control of their asthma then fewer would die from it. If your child takes medication but still has symptoms then this means that the asthma is not under control. You can give your child better control by following the above three principals. By learning the entire Buteyko Method will improve control even further and more than likely eliminate the need for most or all medications. There have been no clinical trials on children using the Buteyko method to control their asthma, but one study of eight children has shown that within 3 months bronchodilators were reduced by two thirds and steroids by half. Three of these children had needed 11 courses of oral steroids in the three months before they learned the techniques. In the three months afterwards, only one of them needed one course.

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