This is my last assignment--a nonfiction magazine article aimed for kids ages 6-9. I wasn't entirely happy with it, but my instructor has told me to submit it to some magazines for publication. Cool!
CATCHING YOUR BREATH
Take a deep breath. Now let it out slowly. It’s pretty easy, isn’t it? But for people with asthma (az-muh), breathing can be a real challenge! What causes asthma anyway? What does it feel like? And how can you help a friend if an asthma attack happens?
Lots of different things can trigger an asthma attack; it just depends on the person. For some people, animal hair, called dander, is a trigger. For others, lots of exercise gives them an attack. Smoke, dust, or very cold or humid weather can also bring on asthma problems.
When an asthmatic, a person who has asthma, comes in contact with a trigger, the muscles surrounding his airways inflame. That means they sort of "freak out!" They squeeze tighter and tighter, making the airways smaller. That’s what makes it hard to breathe. Some asthmatics say that an asthma attack feels like a gigantic rock is stuck on their chest. Most say they just can’t catch their breath, or they can’t get enough air.
Picture in your mind a paper towel tube. It’s hollow in the middle, just like your breathing airways. Now imagine that you’re gently wrapping your hands around the tube. Your hands are like the muscles around your airways. Now pretend that something just triggered your "asthma." Slowly squeeze your hands. What’s happening to the hole in the tube? It’s getting smaller and smaller, right? That’s just what happens during an asthma attack.
Well, since you can’t see inside anybody’s chest, how can you know if someone is having an asthma attack? First, the person will probably start taking lots of short, quick breaths. You’ll notice that it seems like a lot of work for him to suck that air in! He might also start to wheeze, which means his breaths make soft little whistling sounds. That’s an important one–most people with asthma wheeze during an attack. He might even cough. And asthma attacks are scary, so your friend will probably look and act frightened.
The good news is you might be able to help if your friend has an attack! A person who knows he has asthma will hopefully have his inhaler handy. An inhaler is a small L-shaped container that holds a canister of asthma medicine. A little squeeze of the canister shoots out the medicine, and the person with asthma breathes it in. Most inhaler medicines calm down those tight, freaked-out muscles so they stop squeezing the airways closed.
But what if your friend doesn’t have his inhaler? Or what if he doesn’t know whether he has asthma? In these cases you should call for a grown-up to come help you right away. Have the person sit down. Help your friend to take deep, slow breaths instead of fast, short ones. Try to talk quietly and calmly to him, even though you’ll probably be a little scared, too! You could say things like, "A grown-up will be here soon," or "It will be okay; just take nice, deep breaths."
It’s always a good idea to try to imagine what other people are feeling. That helps to make us kinder and more sensitive to others. To know what an asthma attack feels like, just for a few seconds, try this simple experiment: Ask a grown-up for a basic sipping straw. Don’t get a big, fat one–get a regular-sized one. Now breathe through the straw while plugging your nose. You won’t want to do it for very long! And you’ll probably be more thankful for your strong lungs!