I recently spent a week chaperoning kids from my church at camp. While they are all great, active, healthy kids, what struck me about the experience was that 5 out of 6 had rescue inhalers or allergy medications with them, including my oldest son, Barron.
For the four-hour bus ride north, they had their iPods and Nintendo DS game systems, but after going over the medical checklist and realizing that we had a lot of potential breathing issues, I was a little nervous. I needed to make sure they had their rescue inhalers, too.
As it turned out, we didn’t have any problems, and I only know of one incident where an inhaler had to be used.
When did childhood asthma become so prevalent? When did a rescue inhaler become so commonplace?
Naturally, the Centers for Disease Control had answers. According to a 2006 report on the
state of childhood asthma in the United States, the turning point occurred in the 1980s. From 1980 to 1996, the prevalence of asthma in children ages 0 to 17 years more than doubled, jumping from 3.6 percent of the population to 7.5 percent. It is now hovering around 9 percent or 6.5 million children.
When I was a kid, having to carry an asthma inhaler was a reliable predictor of a child’s athleticism. Now, so many kids have it that a rescue inhaler doesn’t relegate you to the bench. Some of the most active and best athletes retreat to the stands to take a puff when they get short of breath.
The stereotype of the bookish, withdrawn child in glasses sitting on the sidelines clutching their inhaler just doesn’t hold up anymore.
I am convinced that allergies and air quality have played a huge role in our own experience with the disease. In fact, our son was diagnosed with asthma just months after moving to metro Atlanta, and his seems to be both allergy and exercise-induced. I found it interesting that even with temperatures in the mid-90s all week and the non-stop exercise
that is inevitable in the camp environment, the Cumberland Plateau provided cleaner air than metro Atlanta and produced no asthma outbreaks.
As our understanding of asthma continues to improve you may see even more kids carrying inhalers. The day is coming when a sideline shot of an athlete celebrating a big play will inevitably include a puff on a rescue inhaler.
In the meantime, just be aware that more and more kids are packing inhalers, and breathing isn’t something we can take for granted anymore.