Mom and pediatrician Ann Chen Wu, M.D. shares her top tips for keeping young kids with asthma safe, healthy, and comfortable.

By Sarah Mahoney
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She’s a pediatrician, an asthma researcher at Harvard Medical School, and the mom of a 14-year-old who’s had asthma since she was a toddler, so Ann Chen Wu, M.D., knows how to look at asthma from every angle.

We asked her to share her top tips for keeping young kids with asthma safe, healthy, and comfortable. (You can find even more ideas on her blog, Asth.ma.)

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Consider Steam.

“When kids are coughing, moisture feels good and can help them calm down. When my daughter, Allison, was a baby, I’d sit outside a steamy shower with her for ten to 15 minutes. We also used a cool-mist humidifier in her bedroom. Of course, steam doesn’t replace medications that your doctor prescribes.”

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Know the Danger Signs.

“The first time Allison woke up sputtering and coughing, she was in real distress. Her nostrils were flaring, and her ribs were pulling in with each breath. She needed medication right away, and I took her straight to the emergency room.”

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Master the Meds.

“Before my daughter was diagnosed, I didn’t fully understand why so many of my patients did not take their asthma medications as prescribed. Preventive medications such as inhaled corticosteroids are so important to reduce the underlying inflammation in the airways that leads to symptoms. In general, children take half as much as they’re supposed to. But now I get it: It’s hard to remember to give a daily dose when your child isn’t having trouble breathing. And no, these drugs don’t stunt kids’ growth or give them big muscles the way anabolic steroids can.”

Boost Your Inhaler IQ.

“Most kids don’t use inhalers correctly, so the medicine winds up in their mouth, not in their lungs. A spacer, a long plastic tube that’s attached to the inhaler’s mouthpiece, is essential, but many kids hate to use one because it’s bulky to carry around with them. We bought Allison a special purse for hers, which she loves.”

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Make it a Game.

“Following the plan is hard, so we try to have fun with medication reminders. Sticker charts helped when Allison was little. She also liked Wizdy Pets, an app aimed at 6- to 12-year-olds, which let her hatch and name a fire-breathing dragon with asthma and care for it every day. Now she uses a cool medication tracker on her phone.”

Be Prepared

“We’ve got a good written asthma plan that tells us exactly what to do if Allison has the first signs of a cold or is exposed to cats, one of her known triggers.”

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