It started with a nagging throat-clearing. Every 15 – 30 seconds, after Z had been in a house with cats (allergy trigger) for several hours.
There was the time we tried the Vicks Vaporub on the feet trick, which only made his cough worse.
Then there was the time he had croup. It was so bad that for three days, neither he nor I slept for longer than a 45 minute stretch, and that was only when I was holding him in the rocking chair to keep him upright.
Finally, there was the time he coughed regularly, long and hard, either from allergies (it was his first real “allergy season”) or from a cold—we weren’t sure which.
In retrospect, there were plenty of clues to tell us that Z was developing asthma, but I just wasn’t sure what to do.
So, I guess you could file this one under, “I wish I’d had a sage to walk me through this.” I sure could have used the insight and assurance that would have come in that form as we walked this confusing path.
When he couldn’t shake his cough and I saw him struggling a little to breathe, I took him in to the doctor. My gut just knew something was off. He ended up getting a breathing treatment in the office, and we headed home with a nebulizer, meds, and instructions to follow up with the allergist.
I remember clearly how the pediatrician said during the visit, “You know, if this is triggered by allergies, it’s likely he’ll develop asthma. If it’s triggered by a cold, he may not develop asthma.” And then he pretty much walked out the door leaving me to my imagination—which is like WebMD on steroids when it comes to medical stuff—and instructions from the nurse, who was awesome and shared tips like, “Don’t give him a treatment right before bed, he’ll be bouncing off the walls for at least an hour.”
The idea of an asthma diagnosis pretty well freaked me out. Maybe it was because I had watched my sister struggle with asthma while we were growing up and how she had to rely on her Primatene Mist inhaler for relief. Or, maybe it’s because I knew that those who have food allergies and asthma are more likely to have anaphylactic reactions in the case of an accidental exposure. Or maybe it was a combination of the two. I don’t know for sure. I just know I didn’t like the idea one bit.
What I do know is that through the next couple of years we got the all-clear from one allergist, and then switched to another allergist who did further testing and determined he was not, in fact, “all clear.” His lungs were showing signs of asthma, and that needed to be addressed. I will be eternally grateful to our allergist for how proactive she has been in this.
If I could go back to talk to my unsure self, the one that wasn’t exactly sure what to do or how to advocate for my son, this is what I would say:
Don’t fear the diagnosis. If your gut tells you something is off, chances are your gut is right; a mother’s intuition rarely lets her down. So, tackle it as soon as you can, and be proactive. The health of your child depends on it.
Meds can be your friend. In the case of asthma, choosing to disregard doctor’s orders because you don’t like your child to be on medications can be costly. Be willing to openly communicate with your doctor. If you are unsure of why your doctor is prescribing one, two, or even three meds for your child at one time, ask the questions. If you can’t get an answer, get a second opinion. As a side note: I’m not a medication junkie. I wasn’t convinced Z needed all of the meds our allergist prescribed when he was first diagnosed. But it turned out his peak flow, which was 140 at the doctor’s office, should have been hovering somewhere around 225. So, for the sake of his health, I put my anxiety about medications aside.
A peak flow meter is a must. Checking peak flows with a meter (we have this one and love it) 2 – 3 times each week takes one minute or less, but gives you great insight to the current lung function of your kiddo. If peak flows are dipping a little lower than normal, you can check them more regularly and consult your asthma action plan.
Get an asthma action plan from your allergist. Have a lengthy discussion with your allergist and get clear directions on what to do if peak flows dip. At our annual appointment with our allergist, Z plays a little video game with his breathing. He breathes into an apparatus that is connected to a computer. As he breathes, a little cartoon game responds on the screen. It’s the hardest video game he’ll ever play, because it measures (magically, somehow) how open his large and small airways are currently. I know it’s hard because I always, always end up doing it subconsciously while watching him. And I’m always totally gassed when the nurse finally says, “OK, take a breath!” Based on this magical test and the last six months or so of my observation, his current range of peak flows, and his general health, his allergist outlines an updated asthma action plan and sends it home with us. I can consult that slip of paper anytime I have a question (read: midnight so I’m not waking the doctor), and I feel confident in responding to his breathing needs accordingly.
Honestly, I was anxious about an asthma diagnosis, but once we got it under control we determined to make it fall under the “Ain’t no thing but a chicken wing” category. I am continually thankful that Z’s daily controller med makes asthma a near non-issue for us. He has flare-ups maybe once each year, which require more aggressive treatment, but that’s so doable considering the alternative.
Have you or your child been diagnosed and treated for asthma? What advice would you give to someone just starting down this road? Share in the comments!