More than 10 million kids and teens are living with a chronic illness or condition. An illness is chronic if it lasts for at least three months and can last their entire life. A chronic condition is a hard pill to swallow, but you can manage it with the right treatments and therapies. Here’s what you need to know about chronic illnesses.
Causes of Chronic Illness
Chronic illness can be caused by genetic or environmental factors or a combination.
Environmental factors that can contribute to chronic illnesses are malnutrition and secondhand smoke. Children with parents who were unknown carriers of a chronic disease can develop the condition that way. The truth is, it’s not always clear what has caused a chronic illness to occur.
Many research studies are looking at the development of chronic illness hoping to find cures.
Most Common Childhood Chronic Illnesses
Children live with various chronic conditions, but you may be relieved to know that the most common chronic condition children face is cavities. Other conditions and illnesses are more severe, but knowing what to look for can help with early diagnosis and intervention.
Over 20% of kids have asthma, which can be fatal if it’s not treated. The good news is that a variety of on-the-go treatments are available to tame asthma attacks before they get severe.
Symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. We know much more about asthma today than we used to. Today’s kids report fewer attacks and fewer missed school days.
Once diagnosed, a health care team can put together an asthma action plan to help the child live a relatively typical life. There are even camps specifically for kids with asthma to learn and bond with other kids living with the illness.
Epilepsy is a scary but common brain condition that causes kids to have seizures. There are several types of partial and generalized seizures, both of which kids can experience with this illness.
The treatment for epilepsy focuses on controlling, reducing, and stopping the seizures. A pediatrician will treat the condition with medication tailored to your child’s type of seizures. However, other therapies and surgeries are available if medication is not effective.
Juvenile (childhood) diabetes is an illness where a child’s pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to neutralize excess blood sugar. Over 18,000 American kids deal with Type 1 diabetes and over 5,000 have Type 2.
Juvenile diabetes is treated by administering insulin. Caretakers give insulin via shots or an insulin pump placed in the body. New technology allows kids to control their care by showing their blood sugar readings via a smartphone.
Probably the most surprising on this list, a chronic condition many children face is hypertension, better known as high blood pressure.
For younger kids, hypertension could be a sign of another underlying illness. As kids get into their teens, hypertension causes tend to align more with adult hypertension.
Signs of hypertension in kids include headaches, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, and vomiting.
One in three kids is affected by a food allergy. Food allergies may start mild, but they can lead to a condition called anaphylaxis, which can be fatal without treatment. Signs of anaphylaxis include:
Skin changes (hives, pale skin)
Swollen throat or tongue, which can constrict the airways
Feeling faint or lightheaded
Many kids with allergies have a life-saving epinephrine auto-injector to control anaphylaxis until a hospital is able to provide treatment. Eggs, milk, and nuts are kids’ most common food allergies.
Advocating for Your Child
If you have a child with a chronic illness, it can be tough to ensure your child is getting the right care. One of the best things you can do is be an advocate for your child. There are several ways to advocate.
Have a Health Plan
Getting a chronic diagnosis and learning how to manage it can be daunting. One of the best things you can do is to communicate with your child’s pediatrician about all of the treatment options and the best course of action for them to take.
Once a plan is in place, have your pediatrician write down clear instructions for your child’s school about their condition and treatments and any extra assistance they will need.
Talk to Their School
It’s also important to talk to your child’s school about the diagnosis and what it means for your child moving forward. If your child spends eight hours a day at school, it’s important for the school to know what may affect them or what they may need during the day.
If your child suffers from food allergies, make sure the school knows what they cannot have or be around. Make sure the nurse has any medications that will need to be administered throughout the day and when they will need to do so. These steps will work to make your child’s day easier and safer.
Remember to check in periodically to see how your child is coping with their condition in school.
Another thing that may be beneficial for your child is to give consent for open communication between your child’s school and their pediatrician’s office. This will allow the school to speak to your pediatrician about symptoms or questions they may encounter. This could especially help in cases of complex or severe chronic illness.
Learning as much as you can about your child’s illness, their treatment, and their rights will allow you to communicate effectively with those who need to know about it. It will also give you the opportunity to educate others and advocate for new treatments or cures.
Hard but Not Impossible
It’s one thing to know about chronic illness and another to be affected by it. If your family has been affected by it, take it day by day and try to stay positive as you look toward the future. If you are struggling, reach out to others for help and don’t be ashamed to accept it.
If you know a family struggling with chronic illness, you can support them by educating your children and offering a helping hand. Proper education and advocating can help a chronically ill child get the most out of life.