As a first-grade teacher, Rachel Stallworth has seen more than her share of coughs and allergies, so when her own young twin daughters started to get sick a lot, she wasn’t too concerned.
By the time they were old enough for school, respiratory distress had become routine for Kaleigh and Kala. They were diagnosed with asthma, a chronic disease of the lungs that causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
But the twins’ episodes grew worse. In 2011, the Stallworths had to rush Kaleigh to the emergency room with difficulty breathing. The following year, Kala had to be hospitalized twice, and she once spent three days in pediatric intensive care.
“We really didn’t understand the seriousness of asthma,” Rachel says.
Kala and Kaleigh Stallworth
Today, the twins’ asthma is better managed. Kaleigh and Kala are under the care of physicians and specialists at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, and their parents have learned about the disease by attending family asthma education classes.
“We truly understand asthma now,” says Rachel. “You have to be diligent and consistent with treatments, and you have to make sure your children are informed so they recognize and can avoid triggers.” In Louisiana, asthma is more common than it is nationally, says Thomas Horsman, MD, pediatric pulmonologist at Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital.
“Asthma is a potentially life-threatening condition and a common cause of childhood hospitalization,” Dr. Horsman says. “However, with the appropriate surveillance of asthma symptoms and lung functions, many of these exacerbations can be prevented. Patient and parent education are paramount for successful treatment of asthma.”
Nationwide, asthma cases jumped 15 percent between 2001 and 2010, yet the number of people receiving treatment declined during that same period, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of Louisiana households with children, one in 10 has at least one child with asthma. Asthma can be triggered and made worse by second-hand tobacco smoke and the residue left on clothes and furniture, animal dander, dust mites and cockroaches.
Asthma is insidious. Many children may seem fine and don’t even realize they suffer from it, says respiratory therapist Tracy Marquette, asthma education specialist at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital.
“You can’t tell if a child has swelling in their lungs just by looking at them, and children become accustomed to what they feel so they may not even realize they’re not well,” Marquette says. Children fare much better if they and their caregivers are educated about the disease and trained in ways to lessen its impact, which reduces the number and severity of hospital admissions.
To help break asthma’s cycle, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital established several programs and procedures that ensure children receive better care.
For example, families of every child treated for asthma receive an asthma action plan. They’re encouraged to post it on the refrigerator as a handy reference for preventing and responding to future attacks.
Marquette and her colleagues coordinate with area pediatricians and East Baton Rouge school nurses to ensure children receive consistent care at home and school.
The efforts are working. In one pilot research program to educate families of children after they were hospitalized with asthma, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital drastically reduced the number of emergency room visits and hospitalizations among those children. Rachel Stallworth says things improved significantly for Kala and Kaleigh after she participated in asthma education classes presented by Marquette.
“What I learned is that children can look fine but actually be very sick,” Rachel says. “You have to give medication and do treatments every day. It requires diligence and consistency.”
- Do not smoke in your home or vehicle
- Dust furniture and change your AC filter often
- Wash sheets and bed linens weekly
- Immediately fix home water and moisture problems to prevent mold
- Allergens such as pollen, animal dander, dust mites and mold
- Irritants including cold air, strong odors and weather changes
- Tobacco smoke, cockroaches
- Upper respiratory infections such as a cold or flu
- Physical exertion, especially in cold weather
Source: Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals
Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital provides these programs to help children and families affected by asthma.
Asthma Action Plans
Children with asthma receive a printed reference guide with easy-to-follow steps to guide responses to future asthma attacks.
Community Asthma Management Program
Families of children treated at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital are phoned three times or more during the year to help them with ongoing asthma management.
School Asthma Management Program
In conjunction with East Baton Rouge Parish Schools and Health Centers in Schools, this program connects patients with school nurses to ensure consistent care for students with asthma.
Mobile Health Unit
Carried out in conjunction with East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, the program boosts clinic-like access which includes a nurse practitioner.
Summer Asthma Camp
For children ages 7 to 12, the week-long camp of asthma-safe activities with a nurse on-hand to explain asthma and answer children’s questions.