Asthma tends to run in families, so if you or others in your immediate family suffer from the disease, there’s a chance your child might develop it, too. However, if you may have passed the asthma gene to your child, you can still protect him or her from developing the disease. In fact, there are several steps you can take to prevent the onset of asthma in your child.
Of course, if your child develops asthma, don’t despair. Medications to prevent asthma symptoms and attacks are a safe and effective way to safeguard your child from the worst consequences of the disease. In the meantime, try some of these strategies to delay or eliminate the onset of asthma.
Breastfeeding for at least the first three months of life has been found to reduce the incidence of asthma even in children who have a genetic predisposition to the disease. You can reduce your child’s risk of developing asthma by up to 42 percent by breastfeeding for three months. The theory is breastfeeding your baby strengthens the immune system, while soy or cow milk could actually initiate the allergic response that hastens the onset of asthma.
Don’t Keep Your Child in a Sterile Bubble
It’s understandable you want to protect your child from illness by eliminating bacteria in the environment that could make him or her sick, but don’t go overboard and sterilize everything in sight. Allowing your child to be exposed to normal levels of bacteria can protect him or her from developing asthma. One way to do this is by sending your child to daycare where he or she will be around other children all day and be exposed to their germs. That exposure will stimulate his or her immune system, strengthening it and keeping it strong throughout his or her life.
Another option is to have a large family. Studies have found that as the incidence of families with more than two children has decreased, rates of asthma have increased. Researchers believe that having three or more children in the house provides the bacterial exposure kids need to develop strong immune systems.
Though exposing your child to bacteria can be beneficial, you should take care to limit his or her exposure to viruses. Keep your child away from people who have colds. Of course, isolating your child from everyone who has a viral infection can be challenging, so if your child catches a viral respiratory infection anyway, seek prompt medical care. Respiratory infections, especially in young children, can speed the onset of asthma symptoms. You should also keep your child away from mold, air pollution, and airborne chemicals and fumes.
Exposing your child to cats and dogs while he’s young could protect him from allergies, and allergies can lead to the onset of asthma. If you live on a farm or are interested in becoming a farmer, even better — studies suggest that children who live on farms get asthma less often, and scientists believe it’s because of the bacteria they’re exposed to through their contact with animals. Exposure to pigs is considered especially beneficial for asthma prevention.
Feed Your Child a Healthy Diet Rich in Omega-3s
You already know to feed your child a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables for other reasons, but you may not know eating right can protect your little one from developing asthma. You should also feed your child plenty of fish — the omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish may protect your child from developing asthma. Studies have found that in areas where fish is an important dietary staple, asthma rates are lower, and it may be because of the omega-3s.
Encourage Moderate Exercise
Too much exercise can make your child more prone to developing asthma, but he or she would have to be exercising for hours every day for that to occur. Encourage your child to get a healthy amount of exercise — the CDC recommends an hour of exercise every day for children. Fatty tissue has been found to secrete chemicals that inflame the airways, which can lead to the onset of asthma. Exercise also strengthens your child’s lungs, immune system and heart, to protect him from developing asthma.
Sending your child outdoors to play can also help protect him or her from the onset of asthma. The body needs to be exposed to sunlight to produce vitamin D, which is necessary for both immune system function and lung function. Playing outside in the sun strengthens your child’s lungs in more ways than one.
If you have a family history of asthma, your child could develop it, too. But it’s not a guarantee. By taking steps to encourage the healthy development of your child’s lungs and immune system, you could prevent the onset of asthma symptoms and help your child enjoy healthy lungs throughout his or her life.
About the Author: Contributing blogger Dr. Rodney Sewell lives in Atlanta, where he has treated patients in his private practice for approximately two decades.