Asthma Education

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Asthma is a pretty common diagnosis, not just on the respiratory unit where I work, but everywhere! I had asthma as a kid and I know lots of other kids around me had it too. It was something pretty “normal” to me growing up and I never really thought twice about what it was, why I had it, and I loved that it came with the perk of not having to run the mile in P.E. Even while working in the ER, a chief complaint of asthma was not a high priority compared to everything else coming into the department  (unless the patient had a very bad asthma attack).

Seeing more and more asthmatics come onto my unit now in the “winter” months down here in Miami, I began doing lots of research on different asthma education resources. I found tons of resources just by typing in “asthma education for children” in Google.

Here are just a few I found:

The list goes on and on and on, however, after a couple of asthma teachings using these resources, I felt like something was missing. I wanted to my patients to reach specific goals I had for them which were not always all covered by the resources I found.

My goals for my asthma lesson plan are:

  • What part of the body is affected by asthma (lungs)
  • How many lungs they have (you’ll be surprised how many older school aged kids have told me 1!)
  • What happens when you have an asthma attack (bronchial tubes become tighter)
  • What can cause an asthma attack (identifying triggers)
  • How can you help lungs/airways feel better if you have asthma (long-term medicine/quick relief medicine)
  • and what are the symptoms you might feel when you are in the green, yellow, or red zone (self-awareness)

I mixed some pages from various resources I found online and also created some pages myself to help me get my message across the way I feel is best for my patients. While creating my new asthma education packet, I still felt like I was missing an effective concrete example demonstrating the difference between healthy lungs and lungs experiencing an asthma attack. That’s when I created the activity below!

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  • While going over our asthma education packet, the patient and I cut out lungs from the packet (the best  printable version of lungs I found were from this website: http://learncreatelove.com/printable-lungs-craft/ ).
  • Then the patient and I will glue the lungs onto paper lunch bags. In an effort to save paper/materials, we make 1 lung with asthma and 1 lung without asthma vs 2 lungs with asthma and 2 lungs without asthma.
  • After we glue the lungs onto the paper bag, we tape a smoothie straw into one lung and a cocktail straw into the other lung. I have the patient then blow into the healthy lung and suck the air out a few times. Then I have the patient blow into the lung with asthma and such the air out a few times as well. This way, the patient can clearly experience the difference in breathing and how it is much more difficult to breathe during an asthma attack than when lungs are healthy. *Check with the patient’s nurse before doing this activity to make sure the patient is clinically stable enough to do breathing exercises. You wouldn’t want to exacerbate them!*
  • After this activity the patient and I then continue with the education packet (triggers, medicines, etc.)

There are TONS of resources on asthma out there – asthma books, asthma camps, asthma videos, asthma games…look on the child life forum too! As a reinforcer, I also created an asthma memory game to make patients more aware of common terminology usually associated with asthma (albuterol, pulmonologist, inhaler, spacer, etc.). I also encourage them to download (with their parent’s permission) an app called “Widzy pets” which centers around asthma education in a fun way.

What are some ways you help your patients learn about asthma?

Cystic fibrosis teaching

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Recently I had a school-aged boy diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) admitted to my unit for a “tune up”. He told me he was in the hospital because he had CF and when I asked him what CF was he said: “I don’t know what it is but I know that I have it…”. I asked him if he wanted to learn a little about what CF was and he agreed! Right away I went to grab a Huxi book, some crayons, and coincidentally I found a panda stuffed animal in our prize closet. We read through the book and talked a lot about mucus and the parts that it effects in a person’s (or panda’s) body with CF.

After we talked about mucus, then things got really fun… we made slime (aka, mucus)! There’s nothing school-aged boys love more than making gross, icky, gooey, slimy mucus. I wanted to make slime with him so that he could have a concrete example of how sticky and gooey mucus can be. While we were squishing the slime around in our hands he began to ask questions like “how do we get rid of mucus?”. I answered his question by asking him about things he does at home – breathing treatments, enzymes, wearing his vest, etc. We also talked about other ways he can help his body get rid of mucus like eating healthy and being active.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to teach my little patient about CF & that we both had so much fun!