Our knowledge of this condition is constantly improving, but plenty of myths have stuck around. Let's set the record straight about your child's asthma.
Myth #1: Asthma is a psychological condition.
Asthma is a physical disease with a known cause. Your child's airways close up when the body overreacts to things like allergens or air pollution. Stress can make asthma worse, but asthma is not a psychological or mental problem. Meanwhile, some psychological conditions can cause asthma-like symptoms. For instance, a panic attack may cause shortness of breath or a sudden inability to breathe. These symptoms usually don't respond well to asthma treatment, since they don't have the same underlying physical cause.
Myth #2: Kids with asthma can't play sports or exercise.
While it was once thought that exercise and physical activity would only make asthma worse, experts have since learned much more about asthma. They now recommend that kids with asthma stay physically active. Regular exercise strengthens the lungs and has many other health benefits. Talk to your child's doctor about what kinds of exercise are right for your child. Activities like walking, hiking and swimming are often recommended, as are team sports that require only short bursts of energy, like baseball or short-course track and field events. Your child may want to avoid sports like skiing and ice hockey, since cold air can make asthma symptoms worse.
Myth #3: Asthma medication is addictive.
Many people think that the steroids in asthma medications are the same as those taken by body builders to bulk up, so they must be addictive. However the steroids in asthma inhalers work much differently and they aren't addictive. Patients with asthma often use their medications daily to control their asthma, not because they have developed an addiction. Your child's doctor can explain how your child's asthma medications work.
Myth #4: Asthma medication becomes less effective over time.
Different asthma medications work in different ways. If your child has an asthma attack, that doesn't mean that his daily medication has stopped working. It may mean that the air quality is worse that day or your child has been exposed to a new environmental trigger. However, if you notice that your child frequently needs his rescue medication, talk to your pediatrician about ways to manage your child's asthma better. And anytime you change your child's medication, be sure to update your Asthma Action Plan accordingly.
Myth #5: My child only needs asthma medication when she feels sick.
Some people have very mild asthma and only need medication for occasional flare-ups. Patients with persistent asthma need to manage their condition daily. If your child's Asthma Action Plan calls for daily medication, be sure to make that a part of your family routine. That maintenance medication will help your child stay healthy. And it's important to treat even mild symptoms, so that they don't get worse.
Myth #6: Everyone outgrows childhood asthma.
Some kids' asthma gets better or even seems to disappear altogether, as they grow older. Doctors don't completely understand why this happens, but they know it doesn't always mean the asthma is gone forever. Sometimes kids will seem to have "outgrown" their asthma, but symptoms return in young adulthood. The lesson: never assume that your child doesn't need asthma treatment anymore. If your child's symptoms change or get better over time, talk with the doctor about updating your child's Asthma Action Plan.
A version of this article was originally published by the Health & Wellness Alliance for Children and reviewed by Dr. Angela Moemeka, Medical Director of the Health and Wellness Alliance and Vice President and Medical Director of Community Health at Children's Health℠.
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