The statistics are startling: One in 10 school-age American children now suffer from asthma, a number that has doubled since the 1980s. It is also the third-leading cause of hospitalization for children under age 15, and results in 13 million missed school days per year. How come? Experts believe a variety of factors are to blame. "We're using more cleaning products and hand sanitizer than ever before, so one theory is that kids aren't encountering as many allergens at a young age, making them more sensitive to immune system-related conditions as they grow up," explains Adriana Matiz, M.D., a pediatrician and medical director of the WIN for Asthma Program at New York-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital in New York City. "Meanwhile, kids are surrounded by greater levels of air pollutants and other triggers. If they're genetically susceptible, this degree of exposure makes it more likely they'll have problems."
And helping a tween or teen deal with asthma brings on a whole new set of challenges. "We often feel overprotective of kids with health problems like asthma," says Noreen Clark, Ph.D., director of the Center for Managing Chronic Disease at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who has studied more than 1,200 kids ages 10 to 13 with asthma. "But this is a group that wants and needs to build their independence. It's also the most important time for them to learn to manage their condition." Whether your kid is packing up for his first sleepover at a friend's house or just landed a spot on the varsity cross-country team, make sure he fully understands what specific factors may aggravate his asthma and the best ways to handle an attack.
Here are ways that asthma could be affecting your tween's or teen's health—and what you can do to help.