Asthma is a chronic disease affecting more that twenty million children and adults in America. It is likely that some of the individuals you support may have asthma. Asthma can affect people throughout the year, but winter weather can make it harder to manage the symptoms.
When you breathe, air goes to your lungs through airways or breathing tubes. Asthma is a chronic disease that causes these airways to become inflamed and narrow, making it hard to breathe. The inflammation makes the airways more sensitive to things that irritate the lungs, especially things you are allergic to. When the airways react, they get narrower and less air flows through to your lungs. You can compare asthma to breathing through a straw – with less space for the air to go through, it becomes harder for air to move in and out of the lungs, which causes shortness of breath, breathing problems, and other symptoms.
Asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe, and often occur in episodes or attacks. Symptoms include:
Anyone can get asthma. Asthma usually starts in children between 2 to 6 years old, but can also develop in adults. Some people who are more likely to get asthma include:
Asthma attacks can be triggered by allergic reactions. They can also be caused by things that irritate the lungs. Each person with asthma has his or her own unique set of triggers. Most triggers cause attacks in some people with asthma and not in others. Common triggers of asthma attacks are the following:
There is no cure for asthma, but there are many things that people with asthma can do to manage the disease and lead healthy lives. As a direct support professional, you can encourage people with asthma to talk with their doctor about how to stay healthy and manage their asthma with an asthma action plan. This plan should include instructions on what to do when an asthma attack occurs, when to call the health care provider, and when to go to a hospital emergency room. You can also learn about asthma yourself so you can help individuals with asthma with their daily activities.
A doctor can prescribe medication to help manage asthma. There are two kinds of asthma medications:
Make sure both you and the individuals you support know when and how to properly take their asthma medication and how to use an inhaler.
Most asthma attacks don’t stop on their own, so you need to act quickly. By planning ahead for asthma attacks, you can be ready to treat attacks as soon as they occur.
The individuals who you support may not be able to communicate the symptoms they are experiencing. You can observe changes in their behavior that may indicate an asthma attack. In some cases it can be hard to detect a change. The people who you support are relying on you to notice changes in their behavior and their bodies and to ensure that they receive the treatment that they need to get better. Be especially aware of:
Be aware of changes in the way the individuals you support are breathing. Ask a doctor about using a “peak flow meter” – a device that measures how well someone’s lungs are working. An individual can blow into the peak flow meter and measure how much air their lungs push out. If the individual is having trouble blowing out air, this may mean that an asthma attack is coming.
Keep an inhaler with you at all times so you can always be prepared to treat an asthma attack quickly. If quick relief medication does not work, call 911. A mechanical ventilator may be necessary to help the individual breathe normally.
As a direct support professional, the best thing you can do is to make sure that the individuals you support understand and follow all of their doctors’ instructions. You can also help them develop their own plan to manage their asthma.
Whenever an asthma attack occurs, you can find clues to help determine what causes the attacks. By recording the circumstances surrounding an asthma attack, you can discover the pattern of triggers that can lead to an attack for an individual. You can ask the people you support questions such as:
When do your asthma attacks typically happen?
Where were you when the attack happened?
What activities did you do the day of the attack?
How were you feeling before the attack?
You and the individuals you support can use this worksheet to figure out what triggers their asthma.
Find physical activities they can enjoy that do not overwork the lungs, such as a walk around the neighborhood.
Reduce stress by assisting them to manage their schedule and time.
Talk to others about their feelings to help control strong emotions.
The winter season can bring certain problems in managing asthma. Cold, dry air is an irritant that can trigger asthma attacks. You can remind individuals to:
In particular, exercising or engaging in physical activity in the cold weather can trigger asthma attacks. You can support individuals by planning physical activities that are easy to do during the winter, such as:
You can ask a doctor for ideas of appropriate exercises and activities. Also, spending more time indoors can increase the risk of catching respiratory illnesses. You can support healthy habits to prevent catching colds and flu which can trigger asthma attacks.
The best way to learn more is by talking to a doctor. You can ask a health care professional or your local Regional Center if they have materials that you can use to teach people with developmental disabilities about asthma.
You can also check out these other resources on the Internet:
Last updated on June 10th, 2010