Asthma is a respiratory illness where the airways leading to the lungs tighten and narrow, making it difficult to breathe. The condition is usually chronic, but it can be managed through the use of special medications. Teens dealing with asthma often have a special set of issues as they try to balance living with this condition while not appearing different from their peers.
Medical professionals are not certain exactly what causes asthma, but they do know that:
- Asthma often runs in families.
- Air pollution can cause asthma or make it worse in people already suffering from the disease.
- People with allergies are more susceptible to asthma, although not all allergy sufferers develop the condition.
People suffering from asthma usually take a daily oral medication designed to control their asthma. They also carry an emergency inhaler with them to deal with any flare-ups. Peer pressure may make your teen sensitive to taking these medications in front of his friends. Parents can help by talking with a doctor to arrange a schedule where your child can take his medication in the morning and evening instead of during school hours.
There are many things that can trigger an asthma attack. If your teen knows what these triggers are, she will be better equipped to avoid them which will lessen her chances of an attack. The Mayo Clinic cites the following triggers that can cause bouts of asthma:
- Airborne allergens
- Respiratory infections
- Air pollution, including smoke
- Sulfites and other preservatives
- Allergic reactions
Asthma, Teens and Sports
Until recently, asthmatics were advised not to participate in strenuous exercises. For teen athletes with asthma, giving up sports could be devastating. Medical professionals today believe that participating in sports and exercising is healthy for those with asthma as it helps them to stay in shape, keep at their optimal weight and it also strengthens the muscles used to breathe. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports that roughly 20 percent of top athletes and one out every six Olympian athletes suffer from the disease despite their consistent exercise.
Knowing What to Do
The best thing a teen can do when an unexpected asthma attack occurs is to have their inhaler handy and know how to handle the situation if it spirals out of control. Teenagers, however, tend to spend more time with their friends and less time with the family members who are best prepared to help them in the event of an attack. This makes educating friends, team members, coaches and teachers about how to handle the situation extremely important.
The most important thing you can do when one of your friends is having a severe bout of asthma is to know when to call for emergency medical assistance. When teens have an attack it may seem scary, but it is imperative that you keep your cool so you don’t cause them more stress which can make their asthma even worse. Signs that it might be time to call for help include:
- Breathing and wheezing become increasingly worse, despite the use of an inhaler
- Even the smallest physical activity, such as walking, causes severe shortness of breath
- The ability to breathe takes a rapid turn for the worse
How Parents Can Help
Asthma is as much an emotional situation as it is a physical condition for teenagers. Parents must realize that their teenage children are now young adults who should be included in the discussions and decisions regarding their condition. Knowing that they have some control over the situation will help them to feel empowered. Parents also need to recognize when it is time to step in. If your teen is not controlling her asthma well, it can eventually cause low self-esteem or depression, or even become a life-threatening condition.
Although asthma is usually a chronic condition, it is not a life sentence. Teens suffering from asthma should be encouraged to lead normal lives with some minimal limitations and daily medications.