There are more than two million parents with asthma in the UK – and we know that many of them worry about having an asthma attack, and how scared it might make their children feel. Parents also tell us they’re missing out on making family memories because they can’t join in the parents’ race for sports day, or go to the park or the farm, because they worry that exercise or allergies could trigger their asthma.
If this sounds like you, here are the best simple tips gathered from other parents and our Asthma UK nurses to help you deal with asthma symptoms and ease your kids’ worries, so you can enjoy family life.
1. Look after yourself – in just three minutes a day!
Keeping yourself well is the best way to make sure your asthma symptoms don’t take over your life – and just three minutes a day can make all the difference. Using your preventer inhaler as prescribed – even when you feel well – will help stop your airways getting inflamed, so they’re less likely to react when you come into contact with any triggers. This means you’re cutting your risk of an asthma attack. Many parents tell us they set a daily reminder on their phones, and keep their inhalers where they know they’ll see them – often the bedside table.
2. Know the signs your asthma is getting worse – and what to do
Take a photo of your written asthma action plan and keep it on your phone – it tells you how to recognise when your asthma is getting worse and what to do about it. Using one makes you four times less likely to end up in hospital because of your asthma – fill it in with your GP or nurse.
3. Talk to your child about asthma so they get used to it
Many parents are worried about their children seeing them having an asthma attack. Talking to your children about asthma while you still feel well is a really good idea. Explain what asthma is and how it affects you (you’ll find some tips and examples here), and talk to your child about how you might react if you were to have an asthma attack. How much detail you go into will depend on their age, but be honest, use simple language, correct any misunderstandings they might have, and reassure them that it’s perfectly possible to stay well with asthma.
Storybooks like Monkey has an asthma attack are ideal for helping young children learn about asthma.
4. Help your child feel confident to help you
If you’ve already spoken with your child about your asthma, it’s a natural next step to show them your blue reliever inhaler, and how you ‘puff’ it. This way they won’t feel it’s scary, and if you keep it somewhere they can easily find it, they might be able to bring it to you in an emergency.
At the Asthma UK Helpline, we think children are never too young to learn about dialling 999. Help them to understand when you might need emergency help by giving them specific examples of what an asthma attack might look like. Let them know what they should say if they have to make the call.
5. Agree a childcare contact for emergencies
It’s not easy to imagine the worst, but it can help you feel better if you plan for it. If you did have an asthma attack, who would look after your child? Talk to your friends and family and agree who will be an emergency contact and take care of your youngster if you have to go to hospital. Most mobile phones will let you save an ‘in case of emergency’ (ICE) contact which can be seen by anyone, even from your lock screen. Remember that a lot of asthma attacks can be dealt with by the paramedics and you might not need to go to hospital – but you might still need some time to help you recover.
6. Bring the picnic indoors!
If you have outdoor asthma triggers – like pollen, mould or pollution – don’t feel you have to miss out on the summer fun. Clear the furniture, spread a picnic blanket out on the living room floor, and bring on the snacks! You could even stage your own family festival by rigging up your own tent and streaming some live comedy or music.
Keep taking your preventer inhaler as prescribed and you’ll be less likely to react, whatever your triggers. And if you have allergies, check if you should be taking antihistamines too.
7. Be a sports day super supporter
For most people with asthma, exercise should be manageable and in fact, is good for lung health. But if you found yourself sitting out the parents race at sports day again this year, go and see your GP. You might need a change of medicines, a tweak to your inhaler technique or even antihistamines to help with an allergy trigger.
On the day though, if you’re not feeling great, don’t risk it, and take your blue inhaler. Remember that many other parents don’t actually take part in races themselves, for all sorts of reasons. Nobody will judge you. The most important part of any school sports day is cheering your youngsters on from the side lines.
If dealing with your asthma feels like a bit of a mountain to climb, remember you’ve dealt with hundreds of challenges since becoming a parent. If you can bring up a small person, you can do this – and we’re here to help you every step of the way. If you need some extra support, WhatsApp our nurses on 07378 606 728, or chat with other mums and dads on HealthUnlocked or our Parents Facebook page.