Asthma and Behaviour Difficulties

Written to put on a forum about asthma and children:

I googled asthma and behaviour today and it shot articles straight back to me on how children with asthma have more behaviour problems.

This article  says “The stress related to having asthma might contribute to behavioral problems because the family’s focus on the medical issue may make managing behavior more difficult. Or, on the other hand, behavior problems may make managing asthma symptoms more difficult,” said lead author Jill Halterman, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong.

This seems to be the general feeling behind most of the articles that I read: that the behaviour difficulties come from the parents’  and how they are dealing with it or that the behaviour problems are making the asthma worse.

Now, I’m not feeling very well at the moment and my behaviour is definitely worse.  I wouldn’t be able to be generous and reasonable if asked to do things I don’t want to do.  Surely it could be as simple as the asthma symptoms (even slight ones) make the child anxious, intense, aggressive, upset, demanding, unreasonable etc, etc, particularly with young children as I say who are not able to verbalise their symptoms or tell anyone they are feeling under the weather.

I found this mainstream article about allergic reactions and one of the symptoms when you have been affected by the allergen is “An impending sense of doom.”

A generalised (systemic) allergic reaction – rare but serious

The venom can cause your immune system to react more strongly. This may cause one or more of the following:

  • Itchy skin in many parts of the body, followed by an itchy blotchy rash that can appear anywhere on the body.
  • Swelling of your face which may extend to the lips, tongue, throat, and upper airway.
  • A sense of impending doom.
  • Abdominal cramps and feeling sick.
  • Dilation of the blood vessel which can cause:
    • General redness of your skin.
    • A fast heart rate.
    • Low blood pressure which can make you feel faint, or even to collapse.
  • Wheezing or difficulty in breathing due to an asthma attack or throat swelling.”

I would have thought that you might feel “A sense of impending doom” with any of the other symptoms listed anyway but they listed it as if it is a separate symptom in it’s own right.  Asthma is, of course, an allergic reaction but not a systemic one but I’m still left wondering if hormonal and/or emotional reactions are involved even in the slightest asthma attack, particularly with young children.

Could the allergy itself cause an emotional impact?  It says here that the adrenaline that is produced as a natural reaction to the airways constricting in order to dilate them again can also cause increased heart rate.

Increased adrenaline produces increased heart rate, blood flow is shunted away from the skin and toward the muscles and internal organs, increased blood sugar, increased metabolic rate, dilated pupils and bronchodilation.

If I could understand this article it might help but I don’t.   To my untrained eye it seems to be saying once again that they are trying to find out whether stress is making the asthma worse.  I am wondering here whether a level of that stress is caused by having the asthma in the first place.

In my grand study that I am doing with my 4 children and no scientific knowledge,  I have two that don’t have asthma (number 1 and number 3) and two that do (number 2 and number 4).  Number 3 is like a first child again because of the age gap and I’ve been reflecting how interesting it is that number 1 and 3 have both been very easy going, undemanding, outgoing, get on with it sort of children and I have often put this down to being first children and getting enough attention.  Number 2 and number 4 have both been very intense and rather challenging as toddlers.  Number 2 was often unhappy with new situations, sensitive, clingy (I hate that word because I don’t see it as a negative), intense, reluctant to allow change and got angry sometimes which I’ve never seen 1 and 3 do as young children.  Number 4 is more outgoing but gets very angry and upset and shouts.   Some of this I have put down to being a fourth child but I have been noticing patterns in his behaviour recently and I think perhaps he is struggling with slight asthma more often than I think.  I notice the bigger attacks of course and he has already been in to the local hospital twice.  I don’t have the same difficulty in accepting I can’t prevent it as I did with number 2 so I do deal with it when I see it but I wonder if it is more of an issue than I thought.

Like most parents I like to think I give my children as much of a stress free environment as I can. I’m sure this time round that I am not passing on any stress to number 4 with how I am dealing with his asthma.  I’m pretty convinced that his intensity, panic and anger are caused by something to do with his asthma, occasional though it is.  Perhaps he is just having asthma attacks when he gets a cold as I think he does but perhaps even that has set up a pattern of him feeling panicked and he goes in to “fight and flight” mode more often than he might do otherwise.

On the other hand, perhaps I just need to give him m0re attention and I’m looking for excuses.  I’m used to taking things on the chin and I’ve been there but just don’t think that I’m doing that much wrong, beyond the normal imperfect parenting we all suffer from.  He’s like Jekyll and Hyde and I have no doubt that Jekyll will win out because he is a beautiful, loving, affectionate, generous boy who just gets stressed sometimes.

With my number 2 child his intensity has turned out to be an asset as he is the most sensitive, loving, caring lad I know.  He really is a very special eleven year old and although he still has asthma it is much more occasional and doesn’t cause him the same levels of stress that it did when he was younger so he deals with it better emotionally.

So I am just writing this to affirm the faith I feel in my littlest and to encourage any other parents out there who are finding the behaviour of your asthmatic children difficult.   It might just be that the stress is caused by the asthma, not that your child has a stressful life in the first place.  I believe that loving parents are the best possible people in the world to support and help their little ones with understanding and patience.

If there’s anyone out there who can shed any light or thoughts or personal experiences on this please do!


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