One in five children in Singapore suffers from asthma, a chronic lung condition that can cause breathing difficulties and wheezing.
Pollutants, haze, cigarette smoke and house dust mites can trigger an asthma attack, says paediatrician Dr Dawn Lim. She’s the author of Childhood Allergies: All you Need to Know about Your Child’s Allergy. Nobody knows the cause of the condition, but both genes and the environment have a part to play, says Dr Lim. It can also be triggered by lung infections caused by viruses.
Here’s what you need to know about managing your child’s asthma:
DON’T SKIP MEDICATION Although asthma is currently incurable, doctors say with proper care and regular use of preventor medication, it can be well-controlled. There are two types of medication: preventors and relievers. The former, which should be used regularly, stop the attacks by controlling airway inflammation. The latter, used during an attack, works by opening up the airways.
“Kids who frequently miss doses of their preventive medicines have poorer control of their asthma. Using preventors only when symptoms develop can potentially put the child at risk of a serious attack,” says paediatrician Dr Eugene Han.
However, Dr Lim notes that some parents do not understand how important preventor medications are. Many times, the child looks well but he may actually have a lot of inflammation in his airways. When a virus strikes, the child gets a bad attack,” she explains.
BEWARE OF BOGUS TREATMENTS Prof Lim Tow Keang, a senior consultant at National University Hospital, also warns against “miracle cures” or alternative therapies such as homeopathy, herbal treatment, ayurveda and acupuncture.
“There’s a lack of information about how safe these therapies are. Some may even cause risks to asthma patients as we are not clear about the side effects,” says Prof Lim, who is programme director of the Singapore National Asthma Programme.
HAVE AN ASTHMA ACTION PLAN Every parent of a child sufferer should have this, which will help you understand how many doses to give when he’s well, has a mild cough or wheeze or has an attack.
IF AN ATTACK OCCURS According to Dr Han, you should:
• stay calm and stop all activities
• take your child away from possible triggers like smoke or dust
• follow the action plan by your doctor and administer reliever medication
• encourage him to breathe slowly and in a controlled manner
• take him to the nearest doctor or call for an ambulance if the symptoms do not go away
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