Could she have asthma?
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the tiny airways in the lungs; it causes wheezing and coughing. It's the most common chronic disease of childhood and usually begins to develop before age 5. In 85 percent of children, asthma is triggered by one or more allergens. The other 15 percent of cases are typically aggravated by a virus, secondhand smoke, cold or dry air, or exercise. In either case, symptoms are the same, and they truly impact a child's performance. "Kids who are up all night coughing may be exhausted when they get to school, or too tired to even get there," says Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, M.D., a pediatric allergist in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
What your doctor should look for A good medical history offers several clues. Since the tendency to develop asthma runs in families, he should ask if anyone else has the disease or if your child had eczema when she was a baby (often a sign that asthma may develop later). He'll also ask about any possible triggers: Does your child cough or wheeze during exercise or when she laughs, cries, or has a cold? Do symptoms usually get worse around the same time every year? If the doctor suspects asthma, he may prescribe an anti-inflammatory and/or bronchodilator medications: one "controller" drug to take daily to keep attacks at bay and another "rescue" medication to be taken at the moment an attack begins.
When to speak up Not every child with asthma will wheeze. Some may have only a chronic nighttime cough or develop a bad one every time they get a cold or run around outside in cold weather. So if your physician doesn't take a complete history, this is the time to report past allergic reactions, recurrent bronchitis, or your child's complaints that her chest hurts or she's too tired to play with other kids. If previously prescribed medication isn't helping, say so -- and ask for a referral to an allergist.
Give Every Child a Chance
Children's Health Fund's bright-blue mobile health clinics roll into more than 25 underserved communities around the country. Picture your doctor's office on wheels, complete with X-ray equipment, and offering medical screenings, checkups, and dental and mental-health care as well as treatment for acute and chronic diseases to youngsters who otherwise might rarely see a doctor. Join Children's Health Fund in helping make sure all kids are healthy and ready to learn this year. Visit childrenshealthfund.org to add your voice to the "Every Child a Chance" campaign and download a checkup checklist too. Your support will give Children's Health Fund a larger voice to advocate for children and bring health care to more kids who need it.
One Checkup, a Lifetime of Benefits
Juan Robles was only 13 when he and his five siblings moved from Honduras to New York City's South Bronx. He knew no one. He spoke no English. But he had a soccer coach who took an interest in him and suggested that his mother take the family to the nearby health clinic run by Children's Health Fund. Over the years, Robles and his siblings visited the clinic for medical and dental checkups, eye tests, vaccinations, and everything else that a family needs to stay healthy. That's where he met Alan Shapiro, M.D., who heads both the clinic and the "big blue bus" that rolls through New York City, serving the 11,000 families who rarely see a doctor, let alone receive the top-notch personal health care that Children's Health Fund provides.
"Dr. Shapiro inspired me to study hard and to follow my dreams," says Robles, who went on to become a doctor himself and graduated from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. Dr. Robles is in his second year of a residency in community health care and, not surprisingly, he knows he wants to work for Children's Health Fund. "If I can touch the life of even one child, that would mean the world to me," he says.
Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Parents magazine.
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