Asthma attacks peak during October in Charlottesville and all over the country. That’s because children have been back in school long enough to start spreading cold germs, which can trigger asthma attacks, explains W. Gerald Teague, MD, a UVA pediatric pulmonologist (lung specialist) and asthma researcher.
Teague has treated asthma patients for more than 30 years, and he’s come across a lot of parents who have misconceptions about this common disease.
Just in time for peak asthma season, he sets us straight.
Myths About Asthma
Myth 1: Children with asthma shouldn’t exercise. As long as their asthma is controlled, there is no reason children with asthma can’t be physically active. Teague encourages children to stay active to prevent obesity, which can trigger asthma and make symptoms worse.
Myth 2: Asthma just involves the lungs. There is a systemic (body-wide) inflammatory component of asthma and it may even start as a systemic disease. There is new evidence that metabolic syndrome, a condition when kids have high triglycerides (fats in their blood) and other factors like high blood sugar, contributes not just to diabetes and heart disease, but to asthma. This is why it’s important not just to focus on treating the lungs and airways but to make sure your child stays physically active and eats a healthy diet.
Myth 3: Asthma goes away. Some people have the mistaken idea that you grow out of it. Asthma goes into remission in some children around puberty, but it often comes back. Sometimes, it returns when young adults start drinking alcohol.
Myth 4: Inhaled steroids are dangerous. There is a common belief that the long-term use of inhaled steroids will make a child short. These drugs do affect how fast a child grows, but there is no proof they have any effect on a person’s final adult height. And evidence shows that children who are undertreated are shorter. They also have more potentially life-threatening asthma attacks.
Facts About Asthma
Fact 1: Treatment is more targeted. We have moved away from older, highly toxic drugs to more targeted therapy known as immunomodulators (drugs that have an effect on the immune system). There is also an effort to recognize a child’s pattern of asthma and individualize the treatment. For example, Teague treats a child who has year-round allergies differently than he would treat a child who has asthma triggered by a cold or from running in cold weather. It’s important to adapt the treatment to the child.
Fact 2: Asthma can be treated by a primary care doctor. But when a child has asthma that is difficult to control, it is important to seek the expertise of a pulmonologist (lung specialist) who specializes in pediatric asthma.
Fact 3: There is still a lot to be learned about asthma. The best way to find answers is through clinical trials. Teague has two clinical trials looking for participants:
- One is enrolling children 6 and older with physician-diagnosed asthma.
- Another trial is enrolling preschoolers who cough or wheeze often. This trial hopes to answer an important question: Whether a dose of antibiotics given at the first sign of a cold may help children with asthma avoid severe respiratory problems. There is scientific evidence that antibiotics will help, even though a cold is caused by a virus and antibiotics target bacterial infections.