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Like a breath of fresh air

Innovative team helping children and families battle asthma and allergies

Nancy Ross
Registered nurse and certified asthma educator Nancy Ross

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, May 7, 2018

Registered nurse and certified asthma educator Nancy Ross is proud to be part of a team helping children and families dealing with asthma and food allergies breathe a little easier and lead healthier, more active lives.

Working alongside allergists, nurse clinicians and certified asthma educators at the Children's Allergy & Asthma Education Centre (CAAEC), located across the street from the Children's Emergency department, Ross and the CAAEC team help ensure that a diagnosis of asthma or food allergy doesn't result in living life on the sidelines.

"With the right information, medications and proper compliance with treatment plans, children with allergic diseases can live healthy, active lives," Ross says. "They can even play high-level sports without having asthma interrupt their lives."

Asthma, she explains, is a common, chronic respiratory condition where the airways in the lungs get inflamed and swollen muscles around the airways tighten , causing difficulty in breathing. It usually begins in childhood and is typically associated with allergy, eczema and food allergy. There has been a dramatic increase in allergic diseases over the past 20 years.

"Six to eight per cent of Canadian children have food allergies," she says. "Asthma currently affects about 12 per cent of children in Canada."

The good news is that as the prevalence of allergic conditions has increased, so too has knowledge about how best to treat them.

"Through research, we've learned so much more about asthma and have improved medications to treat it," Ross says. "Asthma control is an achievable goal, so children with asthma today should not be impacted the way they would have been 20 years ago."  

Another major change over the past number of years is the availability of information that can help families keep asthma and allergies under control. That's a particular point of pride for the CAAEC, which has been working hard to maximize the power of the Internet and social media to keep families informed.

"These days, people have access to a lot of information through the Internet, but not all of that information is correct or evidence-based," Ross says. "One of our challenges is making sure that we're a reliable presence on the Internet and social media. We are able to offer people the kind of accurate, safe and up-to-date information they need to manage their child's asthma or food allergy. We have developed a website (www.caaec.ca), Facebook page, and a Twitter account. We've also developed, with the assistance of the Children's Hospital Foundation, short videos on our YouTube channel that can help families get quick, easy-to-digest information about managing a child's asthma, medication, asthma triggers, eczema and food allergies."

A new gaming app, called KungFood and developed in collaboration with Food Allergy Canada, is also nearing completion. Developed with funding from AllerGEN (a national research network established in 2004 by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) and the Children's Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, KungFood was created by Winnipeg-based Tactica Interactiveto help children and young teens with food allergies. The app allows users to earn belts  as they work through trivia and allergy scenarios. The goal is to increase knowledge and their confidence with food allergy. The app also provides food-allergic teens with an allergy alert tool that allows them to share information about their allergy with friends.

"I think that what we offer families is unique," Ross says. "We have a great team that's really working on education and prevention to keep kids healthy and that's something that, as a nurse, I find very fulfilling."

That information and education is a vital resource for families.

"We want to improve quality of life by giving families who attend our education sessions the confidence and support they need to effectively manage their child's asthma or allergic condition," Ross says. "Success for us is seeing active and healthy children with good asthma control, and knowing that we're helping families who live with food allergy to find that balance between risk and safety live a healthy life.

"It's very satisfying to see somebody who, maybe the year before, couldn't play sports or who was struggling with sleep issues related to poor asthma control, come back and say that they're doing great and are healthy and active.  That's very rewarding."

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The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority acknowledges that it provides health services in facilities located on the original lands of Treaty 1 and on the homelands of the Metis Nation. WRHA respects that the First Nation treaties were made on these territories and acknowledge the harms and mistakes of the past, and we dedicate ourselves to collaborate in partnership with First Nation, Metis and Inuit people in the spirit of reconciliation.
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