What's New about Asthma?
“Mommy, I can’t breathe all the way!” These words would instill fear in any parent, but for the parent of an asthmatic, such a comment can spell the difference between life and death. Teri LaBarbera of Poughkeepsie, New York, never thought she would hear these words from her seven-year-old son, Brian, but in February, Brian had his first asthma attack and was brought to the hospital emergency room.
“Brian never [used to have] a problem with his chest, lungs, or breathing, but after having bronchitis in March, he couldn’t seem to shake being sick,” explains Teri. “After four visits, the doctor told us, ‘I think it’s time we consider it could be asthma.’ Bronchitis just sounds like a cold in kids, but asthma sounds so serious.”
Asthma is serious. It affects more than 17 million Americans, and of this number, nearly five million are children. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), asthma is the leading cause of school absences from a chronic illness among children ages five to 17. “It accounts for an annual loss of more than 14 million school days per year (approximately eight days for each student with asthma) and more hospitalizations than any other childhood disease. It is estimated that children with asthma spend nearly eight million days per year restricted to bed,” reports the AAFA website.
Asthma is a disease that has no cure, but it is manageable. It is described as a chronic lung disease and is characterized by inflammation of the airways due to increased sensitivity to a variety of triggers (which can cause narrowing of the airways and breathing difficulty).
“We, as parents and patients, think of asthma as a condition that has asthma attacks and symptom-free periods,” explains Dr. Pradeep Sharma, MD, pediatric allergist in Poughkeepsie. “However, asthma is a disease with chronic inflammation of the bronchi (the tubes that bring oxygen to the lungs). If there are no symptoms, inflammation isn’t present, but it doesn’t mean you’re asthma-free. Treatment continues over a long period of time. It’s a lifelong condition.”
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