Kids Can Breathe Easier

Jun 8, 2011

Brooklyn, NY

a person and a girl wearing goggles

Kathy Garrett-Szymanski, certified asthma educator and registered respiratory therapist, with patient

Asthma is a serious health problem in the United States—it affects ten percent of American children. A chronic respiratory illness, asthma causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and nighttime or early morning coughing. Prevention and long-term control is the key to keeping asthma attacks at bay.

According to Pramod Narula, M.D., chairman of pediatrics at New York Methodist Hospital, the severity of asthma attacks is often the result of inadequate patient education. "Fifty percent of children with asthma do not understand what triggers their asthmatic reactions," said Dr. Narula. Further, they don''t know how to use their nebulizers (devices that create a mist of the medicine solution to be inhaled) or spacers (long tubes that slow the delivery of medication from pressurized inhalers). This lack of education is dangerous: studies show that if asthma is not treated properly, it may get worse over time.

Recognizing the need for better patient education, New York Methodist now offers an asthma education program run by certified asthma educator and registered respiratory therapist, Kathy Garrett-Szymanski.

As part of the program, Ms. Garrett-Szymanski teaches asthma basics, helping children and their parents to understand personal triggers (pollen, smoke, dust), and anatomy, using plastic models of airways. "No one wants to have a chronic disease," said Ms. Garrett-Szymanski. "Adults and children alike think that if they feel a little better, they can stop taking their medication, when it is, in fact, the medication that makes them feel better." Understanding that the chronic disease is managed by the consistent use of medication can prevent asthma flare-ups.

Ms. Garrett-Szymanski also breaks down differences between long-term medications, such as inhaled steroids that control the disease by helping to keep airways open, and rescue inhalers, which quickly loosen the muscle bands around the airways during an asthma attack. Asthma patients benefit from being educated on these differences, in order to best help themselves at any given moment.

"Because asthma cannot be cured, teaching patients how to manage their condition is of the utmost importance," said Dr. Narula.

Ms. Garrett-Szymanski, who comes to NYM from Long Island College Hospital, has been developing her asthma education program for 11 years. As an asthma patient herself, she is committed to making asthma treatment and control simple, understandable, and manageable, "not scary." For more information or to schedule an appointment for the Asthma Education Service, please call 718-780-3066.