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By Selena (bio below)
My daughter is a little over 3 years old now, but this story takes place when she was one month shy of her second birthday. The night was mostly a blur, but I recently worked on jogging my memory about the series of events that led up to my daughter’s asthma attack and my debate on when to go to the ER for asthma treatment. It’s important to remember things and to learn from experiences, even if they aren’t always pleasant. I also think it’s important to share what you learn, so allow me to share this story. I know I get nervous, sometimes, reading stories and wondering, “oh my goodness, how will it turn out?”, so I will ease your tension and suspense and let you know that everything ends up being OK, but it was definitely a stressful, worrisome time.
It was close to midnight and I heard a sound coming from my daughter’s room. It was a small sound, but as many of you know, “Mommy Ears” are a little more sensitive. It sounded like there was a “kuh” sound at the end of each breath that my daughter was taking. I didn’t want to disturb her in her sleep, but it just didn’t sound right. I went into her room and turned on the light just a little bit (we have a dimmer switch in her room). She woke up, but seemed a little more lethargic than normal. I picked her up out of bed and took her to the rocking chair. My husband came in and I told him that she just didn’t seem right and seemed to be having a little trouble breathing. We tried running a hot, steamy shower, to help break up congestion (we thought she might have had a cold/chest congestion). Aside from us all getting frizzy hair and a little damp, it didn’t seem to do a whole lot for her breathing. Her nose was a little less stuffy, though, and I decided that I was going to hold her upright in the glider. Around 3 or 4 in the morning, I turned the light back on and we looked at her, again. Her nostrils were flaring a little bit, but I didn’t know what to make of it. I took off her footie pajamas, to give her a fresh diaper and I saw that her chest was caving inward a little, instead of outward and I thought that seemed odd. Her breathing seemed more labored, so I gave her one of her ProAir treatments, with the puffer-spacer we had been given at an earlier pediatric visit. I wasn’t sure if she was getting enough full breaths to take in the medicine, but I gave her a few puffs. We hadn’t had much experience with the puffer-spacer, so I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. I had my husband bring her a little bottle of her hemp milk, but she could barely hold the bottle. We were worried sick and called the nurse line around 6:00 a.m. After describing her symptoms, we were told to go to the ER, right away.
We arrived at the ER at 7:00 a.m. and she was lethargic and definitely not her usual perky self. They took us back pretty much right away and did a chest X-Ray. They then took us to a room and gave her an albuterol treatment and some prednisolone (oral steroids). Her oxygen levels started to improve and they told us that she had bronchitis and an ear infection. They also prescribed an antibiotic. After getting her medications, she improved shortly thereafter and we were so relieved. We felt just awful for waiting so long to take her in, but we imagined in our heads that we’d be sitting in an ER waiting room for hours on end. (The last time we were in the ER, it was because I had food poisoning and we waited 7 hours to be seen.)
Lessons Learned: When to go to the ER with Asthma
I get a little queasy when I recall how she looked that night and I now know I should have taken her in sooner. I feel a pit in my stomach when I realize that we were very lucky that things didn’t get worse. The “what ifs” nag at my mind, but as with most of these types of situations, I remind myself to learn the lesson and plan to do better next time. Beating myself up over it isn’t helpful. The helpful and useful thing to do is to identify the mistakes and learn the proper measures to take, if there is ever a “next time”.
- If you ask yourself the question, “should we go to the ER?” then the answer is probably “yes”. A child should not have trouble breathing, aside from a stuffy nose.
- When you go to the ER with a child who’s having breathing difficulty you will probably be seen fairly quickly. They will at least do a quick assessment to evaluate the severity of the breathing issue.
- If you have home-care options, as we do now (nebulizer, rescue inhaler), then you can administer those treatments as needed, without making a trip to the ER if improvement is seen. But it’s best to head to the ER if things don’t improve quickly.
- If the asthma attack happens during normal business hours (and how come it hardly ever does?) you can certainly call your pediatrician’s office to see if they have the ability to treat your child for their symptoms. But make sure you speak to a nurse right away and don’t leave a message and wait for a call back. If you cannot reach anyone, head to the ER.
Bottom Line: When we called our insurance company’s nurse line that morning, she told us “if the child is wheezing, flared nostrils, has labored breathing, rapid shallow breaths, but no blue lips, then go to the ER.” (That was a pretty accurate description of Morgan…) She said, “if their lips turn blue and/or there’s wheezing that can be heard across the room – dial 911.” I wish I had known that 7 hours before I made the phone call, as I could have saved my daughter a lot of discomfort and danger. Again, no need to dwell, but these are things I needed to know for the future and I wanted to share it with you.
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Bio: Selena is a stay-at-home mom to her 3-year-old daughter, Morgan, who has several food allergies. Her daughter also has allergy-induced asthma and eczema. She writes about her daughter’s experiences in her blog Amazing & Atopic.