Asthma in kids: Preparing for another cold Chicago winter

Children cough – it’s just a fact. But, if you are the parent of an asthmatic child, the cough quickly turns into something scary, recurring or persistent. No parent wants that middle of the night 9-1-1 call because your child can’t catch his breath. With winter rapidly approaching, thousands of parents in Chicago will be helping kids fighting this battle – my own asthmatic children included. So, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Sol Drapkin of Allergy Partners of Chicago for some tips on how to recognize asthma symptoms in your child, how to begin management and how to prep for the cold, winter months.

Dr. Drapkin suggests that your first line of defense if you have any questions about your child’s cough is to start with your family doctor and then consider seeing an allergist. “An allergist has the ability to find out the source of the triggers of coughing or wheezing through skin testing”, he says. It’s a misnomer that children have to wheeze to be considered asthmatic. Often times, just performing a breathing test in is not enough to diagnose and treat the entire picture for asthmatic children.

Allergy testing will allow the entire diagnostic picture to be seen. What’s been triggering this child’s cough? What escalates it? And, how can it be properly managed going forward? Once the allergist locates the allergies and the child is found to be ‘atopic’ (or allergic) a treatment plan can begin before things get out of hand and you find yourself at 2 a.m. with a wheezing child.

This year, I screwed up on the number one recommendation asthma docs give their patients: start with a good treatment plan. My 11-year-old gets severe asthma with every cold. What starts as sniffles typically ends up with steroids in just a few short days. Had I made my appointment in September, like our doctor recommended, she would have already been on medication to build up her system to handle a simple cold. I could have avoided the whole escalation in the first place.

Dr. Drapkin explains that often asthma patients have a good, quiet summer, with little or not asthma activity and then bam, the first fall cold hits. Children are indoors more, cold and flu season begins and it all exacerbates very quickly. He suggests scheduling that autumn appointment annually to review proper medications, get a flu shot and ensure you have up-to-date prescriptions on hand.

Often treatment plans include allergy shots along with fast-acting and daily medications. Allergy shots are a tried and true method to keep asthmatic patients breathing clear by reducing the triggers. “Treatment for asthma is often multifactorial, and if you miss the allergic component the asthma often persists,” says Dr. Drapkin.

As the rumor mill suggests an even colder winter this year for Chicago than our last Polar Vortex, follow these five tips for managing your child’s asthma during the freeze:

* Start with a good treatment plan with your medical care professional at a fall visit.

* Make sure all medications are up to date and your child has a flu shot. Medical professionals do not recommend the flu nasal mist for asthma patients, as this is a live vaccine.

* Educate your child’s school nurse and teachers on using fast-acting inhalers by creating your child’s Asthma Action Plan.

* Dry air often encourages colds and triggers asthma – an indoor humidifier during the winter months will keep air nice and moist.

* Outdoor play or exercise can often make symptoms worse for asthmatic children. Discuss with your medical care professional the need for taking an inhaler prior to active outdoor play.

If you have any questions about your child’s persistent cough or think that your child may have asthma – it may be a good time to visit an allergist.

Dr. Drapkin is board certified in internal medicine as well as allergy and immunology and he has been seeing patients of all ages at Allergy Partners of Chicago since 2004. He is on staff at multiple area hospitals where he teaches medical students and residents, and he is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. He lives in Skokie with his wife and four children.

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