One of the main goals of parents whose kids have asthma is avoiding trips to the emergency room (ER) for breathing problems. But it’s also important to know when going to the ER is the right choice.
You’ll be better prepared to make that decision if you discuss it with your doctor before your child has a severe flare-up. The doctor’s instructions should be included in your asthma action plan. The plan will list specific symptoms that are your cue to go to the ER. If old enough, your child also should know what these signs are.
Know the early signs of a flare-up
Everyone’s asthma is different. Some kids cough only at night, while others have flare-ups whenever they get a cold or exercise outside.
As you manage your child’s asthma, pay attention to what happens before a flare-up so that you know the early warning signs. These signs might not mean that a flare-up definitely will happen, but they can help you to plan ahead.
Early warning signs of a flare-up can include:
- coughing that’s not due to a cold or a persistent cough
- tightness in the chest
- throat clearing
- rapid or irregular breathing
- shortness of breath with activities
- inability to stand or sit still
- unusual fatigue
- restless sleep
Communicate with your doctor. Be sure to call the doctor at the earliest sign of a flare-up or if you have any other concerns.
When to seek help
Sometimes your child must receive medical care very quickly. If any of the following symptoms happen, see your doctor immediately, go to the ER or call an ambulance:
- if your child is having constant wheezing
- if your child uses quick-relief medicines (also called rescue or fast-acting medicines) repeatedly for severe flare-up symptoms that don’t go away after five or 10 minutes or return again quickly
- if there are changes in your child’s color, like bluish or gray lips and fingernails
- if your child is having trouble talking
- if the areas below the ribs, between the ribs and in the neck visibly pull in during inhalation (called retractions)
- if your child’s peak flow reading falls below 50 percent (which is in the red zone of the peak flow) and doesn’t improve after using medicine
Making ER trips less stressful
Planning can make trips to the ER less stressful for you and your child. Here are some tips to try:
- Know the location of your closest ER. If there’s a Pediatric ER nearby, go there and have the address and phone number handy on the asthma action plan.
- If you have other kids, try to make arrangements with a relative or other caregiver who can take them in an emergency. But don’t let the lack of a babysitter delay your trip to the ER. Someone can always come to the hospital later to pick up your other kids.
- Take a copy of your child’s asthma action plan or a note with the names and dosages of any medicines your child takes to share with the medical staff at the ER.
Well-managed asthma is rarely life-threatening. If you and your child take asthma seriously and work to manage it, you can lessen the chances that your child will need to go to the ER.
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