From left to right: Nancy Ross RN BN, certified asthma educator, Shauna Filuk RN BN, certified asthma educator, Jo-Anne St. Vincent RN BN, certified asthma educator, Lenore Johnstone RN BN, certified asthma educator.

In 1997, asthma was the most common reason for children seeking care through HSC Winnipeg’s Children’s Emergency Department.

To support appropriate care and reduce recurring visits, a team of clinical educators and health-care providers started the Children’s Allergy and Asthma Education Center (CAAEC). A small pilot project at first, the CAAEC quickly established itself as a one-stop shop for allergic diseases such as asthma, food allergies, hay fever and eczema.

“The pilot project showed us that education is very important to efforts to keep children and families out of emergency,” said Shauna Filuk, certified asthma educator at CAAEC. “Our project saw kids return to sports and miss fewer school days, so we developed a robust asthma education program and became a permanent center.”

Educators like Filuk and colleague Jo-Anne St. Vincent, provide consultation directly to patients and families, and share their knowledge with health-care professionals and child-care professionals across Manitoba.

“Our goal is for kids to grow up with healthy lungs,” said St. Vincent, also a certified asthma educator at CAAEC. “Sometimes parents will say, ‘our kid is okay as long as they don’t play soccer.’ We say, ‘it’s not soccer that’s the problem, it’s the breathing, so let’s take care of the breathing so your child can grow up with healthy lungs, can play soccer, and can avoid problems in the future, like chronic lung disease.’ “

On World Asthma Day, recognized on May 3, the CAAEC wants parents to know that asthma should not hinder their children’s ability to play sports, participate in school activities, hang out with friends, or engage in any other part of childhood and adolescence.

“Children with asthma can lead normal lives thanks to education, trigger avoidance, and the use of appropriate medications,” added St. Vincent.

Over the past two years, due to the COVID-19 virus which affected the lungs, educators at the center have been working hard to educate families when they are admitted to hospital or remotely if the family is in the community, recognizing that preventative treatment for those with asthma was important.

“Switching our education sessions to a virtual format through Microsoft Teams and MBTelehealth has allowed us to offer education to parents and their children within their homes, keeping families and their communities safe during the pandemic,” said Filuk. “We also became more accessible to families in remote communities and First Nation communities. Along with education, we can help families navigate the system to be sure they always have the medications they need on hand. “

Educators want families whose children have asthma to keep in mind the following tips to keeping their child healthy and preventing a visit to the emergency department:

  • Remember that asthma is a chronic disease
  • Take your controller medication every day
  • Avoid asthma triggers
  • Watch for early warning signs of worsening asthma such as cough, wheeze, chest tightness or shortness of breath at night, during the day or with activity
  • Follow your asthma action plan

“Even when children are feeling well, if we looked at their airways, they would look different than the airways of children who don’t have asthma,” said St. Vincent. “There’s a misconception that when a child is feeling well, they can stop the medicines. Some children can do that, but for most children, to stay at their best they need to continue to treat preventatively. “

For more information about managing asthma, food allergies and / or eczema, visit the CAAEC’s YouTube channel or Facebook page. Also, the CAAEC can be accessed by anybody without a referral. A parent or guardian can call their number, 204-787-2551, or send a message to them on Facebook at any time and ask to speak to an educator.

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