Many who have asthma do not grow out of it

Tots to Teens

March 05, 1996|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,Special to The Sun

In my family, asthma runs on my father's side. I was born with it. I am now 16. It restricts me from doing a lot of things. What is the average age people grow out of it?

Although we would like to be able to tell you that eventually you will grow out of your asthma, many people who were born with asthma do not grow out of it, as physicians once thought. The fact that you are still having problems with your asthma suggests that you will need to continue to use medications to control it during your adult life.

However, we can tell you that, except in unusual circumstances, teen-agers with asthma should be able to lead a normal life and should not be restricted from doing anything they enjoy. If you are having problems with your asthma, it most likely means that you are not on an appropriate treatment plan.

You should schedule an appointment with your doctor to check this out.

One of the most important things you can do is make sure that you do not smoke and that no one else at home does either. Cigarette smoke irritates the lungs and makes it more likely that your asthma will act up. Some parents (or guests) will say that they do not smoke around their teen-agers or that they restrict their smoking to one room. This is not enough. The smoke will diffuse into other rooms and will get into carpets, drapes and clothing. Enough remains to constantly irritate your air passages.

You should encourage your parents, friends or guests to stop smoking, or if they must smoke, to do so outside. You should also avoid going to parties where people are smoking.

There are a number of medications available to treat asthma attacks and to prevent attacks in the first place. They are all available in an inhaler form -- that is, the medicines can be inhaled directly into the lungs. Their side effects are usually minor.

These medications work to decrease inflammation in the lungs and make them less sensitive to asthma triggers. As a result, they need to be used on a daily basis, even though you are not having any symptoms.

Many teen-agers mistakenly assume that if they feel well, they can stop using these medicines. Doing so allows the inflammation to reoccur and an asthma attack can follow shortly. Teen-agers and adults often have trouble coordinating the release of the medicine from the inhaler at the time they need to breathe it into the lungs. Therefore, it is important that you review the proper technique with your doctor or pharmacist. You may also benefit from using a "spacing" device. These devices make it easier to coordinate release of the medicine with breathing it in and increase the amount of medicine that reaches the lungs.

Many people with asthma also use a peak flow meter on a daily basis. Changes in the peak flow (the speed at which you can blow air out of your lungs) is often the first sign that your asthma is getting out of control and may indicate that a change in your medicine regimen is needed.

Even if you are on an appropriate medication regimen, you may still get an occasional asthma attack. Some of these can be prevented. For example, many teen-agers with asthma find that exercise triggers an attack. Use of an inhaled beta 2 agonist (a kind of asthma medicine) 20 minutes before exercise can prevent this. Over time, you should be able to recognize your own asthma triggers and develop a prevention or treatment plan for them. We want to re-emphasize what we said before: Although you may not grow out of your asthma, it should not restrict you from any activity.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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