A simple trip to the park could result in an emergency room visit for children with asthma. This life of constant fear takes a significant toll on the child’s well-being. Kids should be able to be kids, running around outside and playing without worrying about an asthma attack or getting caught without inhalers. However, their condition often keeps them on the sidelines, watching everyone else have a good time.
Asthma’s Relationship to Mental Health
On top of the scary symptoms, having asthma gives kids an increased chance of mental health issues as well. Parents should primarily look for signs of anxiety and depression since these are the most common comorbid mental health disorders with asthma.
These three conditions form a vicious cycle of symptoms for affected kids. Anxiety attacks can cause difficulty breathing and become challenging to discern from an asthma attack. They can also induce an asthma attack. In turn, many treatments for asthma can increase the likelihood of developing depression or anxiety. Even daily life with severe asthma is enough to affect the mental health of young children.
Exacerbated Risks for Children
Of the roughly 300 million people worldwide diagnosed with asthma, approximately 5.1 million are children under 18 living in the U.S. These kids are at an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression in addition to their condition. These mental health issues can make adherence to treatment more challenging and less likely.
Many children with severe asthma also live with parents who deal with anxiety or depression, either related to having a child with a life-altering condition or completely unrelated. Like their young counterparts, parents who experience anxiety or depression are also less likely to aid in follow-through with asthma medication or treatments for their kids.
Ways to Help Your Child Overcome Symptoms
It’s essential to treat all conditions concurrently to see improvements. Treating only mental health or asthma won’t address the entire problem, and you likely won’t see much progress. Luckily, there’s a decent amount of overlap, so some tips can help your child improve across the board. Others will only target one condition but could be integral to your kid’s treatment plan.
Practice Mindfulness Activities
Mindful breathing is an essential skill to practice with your child, helping both asthma and anxiety symptoms. Helping your kid maintain a consistent habit can strengthen their lungs and give them the tools they need to gain control next time they have a panic or asthma attack.
Another great mindfulness technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. This practice will ground your child and keep them focused in the moment and less on their panic by engaging all the senses. Sitting quietly, your child should list the following:
- Five things they can hear
- Four things they can see
- Three things they can touch
- Two things they can smell
- One thing they can taste
Have your child practice when they feel fine and in control, helping them build the skill so they can draw on it when they’re having an attack.
Create a Solid Asthma Action Plan
When your child has severe asthma, you should work with their doctor to create a written procedure for what caretakers and your child should do when their symptoms flare up. These plans typically have zones based on traffic lights. Adults should follow the instructions in the green zone for mild symptoms, yellow for moderate and green for severe. The action plan should include medications, dosages, triggers and warning signs.
Adhere to Medication and Vaccine Schedule
Kids often have a difficult time keeping up with their medications and at-home treatments. Comorbid depression can amp up that difficulty by leaps and bounds. It will be up to you as the parent, no matter your child’s age, to help them adhere to their prescribed medication schedule. You can enlist the help of the school nurse when they’re in class.
Vaccines are also crucial for children with asthma since many of the viruses the shots help prevent cause damage to the airways and lungs. Your kid with asthma is particularly susceptible to these illnesses, so getting the vaccines can help prevent further sickness and long-term complications.
Try Low-Impact Activities
The right exercise plan can improve symptoms of all three conditions — anxiety, depression and asthma. Exercise has been known to boost mood, aid in sound sleep and even heal the brain. In addition, low-impact activities shouldn’t be as aggravating for kids with asthma and might even help improve their breathing and lung capacity.
Find a Good Therapist
Your child could benefit from seeing a highly qualified therapist who has a background working with kids with asthma and mental health issues. The office setting gives kids a private space to air any concerns.
Trust is essential if you decide to have them work with a therapist. The longer they see the same one, the more they’ll be willing to open up about personal matters, so keep up with appointments and try not to switch counselors unless you have to.
Help Them Stay Involved
Like other kids with severe health conditions, children with asthma tend to feel separate from their peers. They have to avoid certain locations and scenarios that would typically be part of a normal childhood.
You do have to keep them safe and ensure they’re triggered as infrequently as possible, but keeping them involved in social activities is a must. Placing your child in a veritable bubble might keep their lungs healthy, but their mental health would suffer. It’s important to weigh the costs and benefits of each activity to decide if the risk of exposure is worth letting them participate.
Talk to your child’s doctor for guidance on where to draw the line. They can temper your parental desire to keep your kid safe at all costs.
Your Kid Can Have a “Normal” Childhood
Severe asthma impacts your child’s everyday life. They may not be able to participate in every activity they’d like to or have the pet you know they long for. A combination of these challenges and the side effects of some asthma treatments increase the likelihood your child might also experience depression or anxiety.
However, with the above interventions and tips, you can help your child have as “normal” a childhood as possible. It’s essential to keep them around other people and participate in any safe activities they choose. Having a plan of attack for symptoms that crop up will also empower your child and give them the confidence to have fun without as much fear.