Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Dealing with Asthma: Denial, Acceptance and Lessons Learned

Over the last couple of months my son Rohaan aged 3 years 10 months, has been showing symptoms of asthma. I have never known anyone in my family to have asthma. My mother in law has asthma. But that’s something I encountered after my marriage. In my understanding, asthma was a disabling thing that usually struck at inconvenient times and prevented you from having any fun. The first indications of Rohaan’s asthma were when he was three. My mother noticed him straining to breathe when he had a cold. She pointed it out to me. I refused to even entertain a thought that he might be asthmatic. I brushed it off saying ‘his chest is congested because of the cold’.

Then when he was about 3½ years, my husband took him to visit his hometown near Thalassery, North Kerala. He ended up with a bad cold and severe wheezing. At my mother in laws insistence, he was admitted in a hospital and given nebulization. I was still in denial and said it’s just because of his bad cold. Asthmatic children have breathing problems even without colds and Rohaan has had a bad cold every time he had to strain to breath.

I finally had to face the truth when we shifted to Cochin and he developed breathing problems. This time, he seemed to have a bad cough, but no congestion. He vomited everything he ate. He wanted to eat, but he vomited even the water he drank. My husband was out of station and I was 6 months pregnant. I also had a two year old daughter to take care of. I wasn't feeling up to travelling to the hospital. I hoped it would be a minor problem and gave him some pediatric anti-vomiting medicine and a cough syrup.The first night, his breathing seemed quite strained and I was really worried. But by morning, he seemed fine. The vomiting had thankfully subsided, though the dry cough lasted a week. He had just about recovered when the same problem recurred and this time, I rushed him to the hospital. His pediatrician confirmed that he was asthmatic and that his cough was not an infection, but part of the breathing problem. It seems, the cough in turn triggers the gag reflex, which is what made him vomit. The doctor assured me that this was just a childhood problem and he would outgrow it by the age of 10. I spent the day in the hospital pediatric ward where they gave him nebulization every hour for up to 6 hours.

His current asthma trigger is the dampness of the house we are living in. It’s a beautiful and spacious sea facing apartment on the 7th floor. But due to heavy monsoons and some maintenance issues in the apartment, there is water seepage from the ceiling. The dampness gives rise to mold and fungus. 

I researched online to correct my misconceptions about asthma and to learn the real facts of this medical problem. Here is a compilation of my research.

What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease that causes airways that carry air in and out of the lungs to become inflamed and swollen. Wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath are the common symptoms. It is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The diagnosis is usually based on pattern of symptoms and response to therapy over a period of time.

Common Symptoms of Asthma

Common symptoms of asthma are:
  • Cough: Coughing due to exposure to cold air, after physical exertion or during night, especially without phlegm can be a symptom of asthma.
  • Wheezing: a high pitched whistling sound produced when air breathed out through the obstructed airways during an asthmatic attack.
  • Shortness of breath: mild physical exertion may produce breathlessness in asthmatic people and they may have difficulty in recovering from it without medical treatment.
  • Tightness in chest: A constricted feeling in the chest as if some pressure is placed on it.

Identifying Asthma Triggers

  • Viral Infections can trigger asthma. Respiratory syncytial virus and parainfluenza virus are two common culprits.
  • Passive smoking can trigger asthma symptoms in people with the disease.
  • Environmental Allergens like smoke, dust, mold, animal hair, pollens, chemicals, preservatives, etc
  • Other irritants include paint, smog, air fresheners, perfumes, etc.
  • Dietary allergens like dairy products, wheat, eggs, nuts, etc
  • Exercise induced asthma is triggered by physical exertion.
  • Weather changes, cold air, wind or rain can sometimes trigger asthma.
  • Asthmatic triggers maybe allergic or non allergic. 

Diet tips for children with Asthma

  • Food allergies can trigger asthma. Common allergens that may affect asthma are milk, cheese, wheat, yeast, preservatives and colorings.
  • Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that boost the immune system.  So include at least three to four cups servings a day.
  • Findings reported in European Respiratory journal quote that children who consume more calcium are less likely to get asthma.
  • Magnesium also has anti-asthmatic properties. Just two cups of milk a day provides 75% calcium and 50% magnesium requirements for a child between 4 and 8 years.
  • Magnesium is found in cereals, beans, fish, nuts and green leafy vegetables.
  • Fishes like salmon, herring, anchovies, etc have high omega 3 content and are helpful in anti asthmatic diets.
  • Whole grain cereals, oatmeal, etc are also helpful dietary components against symptoms of asthma.

Natural Remedies for Asthma

  • Dietary asthmatic triggers like wheat, chocolate, preservatives, etc should be identified and eliminated from the diet.
  • Keep stress and anxiety to minimum.
  • Include vitamin C. magnesium and calcium in the diet.
  • Drink chlorine free water as chlorine is believed to irritate receptors in the lungs.
  • Identify and eliminate contact with environmental triggers such as smoke, pollen, mold, pet dander, etc.
  • Invest in air filters and vacuum cleaners at home for efficiently filtering allergens.
  • Yoga and other forms of meditation can improve immunity, strengthen the lungs and improve breathing.

Can asthmatic children have ice cream?
Ice cream does not trigger asthma in all children. Some children who maybe allergic to dairy products may have problems with it, but many other asthmatic children seem undisturbed by it. It is definitely not advisable to have ice cream in cold weather or while the child is suffering from a viral infection as this may lead to increase in infection. Cold water or ice cream immediately after physical exercise is also not recommended. Eating ice cream under normal circumstances and in small slightly melted quantities is usually not harmful. 

Here are some useful links:

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