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Melissa Korenblat-Hanin on the Psychological and Social Impact of Childhood Asthma

Lincensed Social Worker Melissa T. Korenblat-Hanin, ACSW, LCSW, was a featured presenter at the 2008AAAAI meeting in Philadelphia, and we recently interviewd her about how asthma can affect children on psychological and social levels.

Korenblat-Hanin worked at the Asthma Center at the Washington University School of Medicine for just under a decade. "That's what sparked my interest in working with patients with asthma and allergic disease," she says.

Through her work, Korenblat-Hanin saw that there was a gap between what patients were experiencing and what physicians knew about their patients. Asthma not only affects kids physically, but it also affects them psychologically and socially.

Korenblat-Hanin and other social workers help children explore and express their feelings about living with a chronic health condition.

"The first issue facing kids with asthma is simply processing all of the new information," she says. "It can be overwhelming to try and learn all the different things you need to do to control your asthma so that it does not control you.

"The second issue is dealing with a loss of health. This can also be a major stressor."

Many children feel a great sense of loss when they're told that they can no longer participate in their favorite sport or pet their favorite animal. It's important to recognize and address that sense of loss.

Asthma: A Family Matter

Research shows that children who have supportive families are more successful at controlling their asthma. However, if the family is already unorganized, the stress of dealing with a chronic disease can be overwhelming.

Korenblat-Hanin offers the following advice to families facing an asthma diagnosis:

"The best advice is to listen to one another and find out how everyone's feeling - and realize that people's feelings are always changing. Since asthma is an ongoing chronic disease, there will be new obstacles, new pitfalls, and new hurdles that you'll have to leap over. On this path to asthma control, you have to always find out how they're feeling, and let them know that they're not alone."

"Get organized, and explain why you do the things you do," advises Korenblat-Hanin. "For example, tell them that you're checking their peak flow because you want to see what's happening inside their body so they can keep their asthma under control.

"Often, children feel like they don't have control, so do whatever you can to bring control to the situation and make them feel like they're in charge."

"Medication is the number one way to control asthma," stresses Korenblat-Hanin, "so make sure that medication fits into their schedules and into their lives."

Asthma Camps & The Asthma Explorers Club

"Asthma is hidden inside," says Korenblat-Hanin. "You can't see it. So these camps help bring it out in the open and allow kids communicate and learn about it in fun ways."

Korenblat-Hanin helped the Consortium on Children's Asthma Camps develop curriculum and activities. Camp activities integrate art, music, movement, and drama to help kids learn. Activities might include fun games such as Pulmonary Putt-Putt and Mucus Monster Toss.

Korenblat-Hanin also helped start the Asthma Explorers Club, a mailhouse organization founded in the early 1990s to help educate hundreds of thousands of children and their families. The mailed materials not only teach kids how to control asthma, but they also help them explore and express their thoughts and feelings about living with the disease. The goal of the Asthma Explorers Club is to empower children; to let them know that asthma doesn't have to take over their lives; to address the physical, emotional, and social implications of asthma; and to increase their adherence asthma treatment.

Childhood Asthma: A Long Journey

Korenblat-Hanin offers the following advice to children with asthma:

"It's a long journey. It's not something you learn all at once, because things are constantly changing, like new medications. Don't hide anything from your doctor; communicate very clearly with your physician about how often you're taking your medication because it determines how they treat you, so you have to educate your doctor about your asthma. You have to be the leader and the guide for your physician."

To learn more about asthma, see our Asthma Solution Guide.