Since 1960, chronic health conditions in children have increased by 400%. Today, between 10-30% of all children are affected by chronic illnesses. Why is this? Chronic conditions develop as a result of a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Some conditions are inherited, while others can develop over time based on a child’s environment. Prenatal habits such as drinking alcohol and smoking can cause developmental problems in children, leading to chronic conditions once they are born.
Chronic conditions refer to any health problems that last for a prolonged period, usually over a year, and can last for a lifetime. These conditions can have a negative impact on a child’s day to day activities and require extensive medical care.
It’s the job of a pediatric nurse to deliver a high level of care to children with chronic conditions and help them live a better quality of life.
How to Become a Pediatric Nurse
If you’re passionate about helping children living with chronic conditions, then you’ll first need to become a certified pediatric nurse practitioner. Working as a pediatric nurse is an incredibly fulfilling job, allowing you to make a positive impact on the lives of the children in your community. While you’ll work with children experiencing minor ailments, one of your primary focuses will be working with children with chronic conditions.
To become a pediatric nurse, you’ll need to have your BSN at a minimum and then pass your NCLEX-RN certification exam to become a registered nurse. From there, you should begin getting some on-the-job experience while also taking online pediatric nurse practitioner programs to further your training. Finally, you will need to pass your CPN exam.
What common conditions should you know about?
As part of helping children with chronic conditions, it is important to understand the most common. Never neglect the importance of knowing too much.
Asthma is the most common chronic health condition among children, next to tooth decay. Every year more children are diagnosed, but advanced treatment options offer more effective ways to cope. Fewer children require hospitalization as a result of their asthma, but the numbers continue to rise. In a child, symptoms of asthma include wheezing and shortness of breath, difficulty eating, runny nose, or fever. If a child has asthma, they will require medication in the form of a puffer, which you administer every time there is any wheezing or shortness of breath.
Cystic fibrosis is a chronic disease that is inherited genetically. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition, but treatment can be more effective with early diagnosis.
ADHD or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a chronic condition that affects between 8-11% of school-age children. Healthcare professionals don’t know exactly what causes this condition, but likely a mix of genetic, physiologic, sensorimotor, biochemical, and behavioral factors. Certain additional factors put children at higher risk of developing ADHD. These include:
– Head trauma
– Iron deficiency
– Lead exposure
– Sleep apnea
– Neurologic injury
– Birth weight of under 1500 grams
– Prenatal exposure to tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine
Cerebral palsy is a chronic condition that impacts movement, muscle mass, and motor skills in children. It inhabits them from coordinating their movements adequately and can affect additional bodily functions such as bowel and bladder control, eating, talking, breathing, and more.
The most common cause of cerebral palsy is impaired brain development in the womb or brain damage due to a stroke or genetic disorder. It can also occur due to infections or medical problems in the mother throughout pregnancy. That said, it can also develop after birth due to shaken baby syndrome, a car accident, lead poisoning, or bacterial meningitis.
The condition itself is not life-threatening, but it can lead to a variety of additional cognitive and physical disabilities, which are more severe.
What a pediatric nurse can do to help patients and families cope
Beyond the treatments, there are some additional ways that a pediatric nurse can help the patient and their family to cope with chronic conditions. As a pediatric nurse, you must listen to the concerns of your patient and their family. It’s scary as a child to live with a chronic condition, and by listening to their fears, you can better help the patient deal with them.
Provide practical and realistic strategies for dealing with their condition and encourage them to participate in their treatment. You’ll be a part of the child’s life for the foreseeable future, so developing a connection and bond with both the patient and their family is essential. Having a good relationship will ease their anxieties and fears when it comes to coping with the chronic condition. However, how else can a nurse aid patients?
You can help educate parents on the best practices they need to implement within their own homes to ensure optimal health care for their children. For example, by teaching the importance of maintaining low humidity in the home, vacuuming and keeping surfaces clean of dust, and reducing exposure to cold air, this can lead to asthma attacks being prevented.
Diagnosing through testing
Healthcare professionals can now effectively diagnose conditions through thorough testing. As an example, pediatric nurses will carry out mandatory testing on all newborns for cystic fibrosis via a blood sample taken from a prick on the heel. They can also diagnose it through sweat by measuring the salt content. Due to these new testing protocols, 75% of Americans who have cystic fibrosis receive a diagnosis before the age of 2.
Understand a patient through their symptoms
Nurses will be able to identify what a child is suffering with simply by the symptoms they are displaying. For example, symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, inability to focus or pay attention, and impulsiveness. There is a list of clinical criteria used to diagnose ADHD, meaning that it’s often hard to know if it’s accurate. Symptoms will usually present themselves before children enter school, and they can make it difficult for them to develop socially, academically, and personally as they age. They will struggle to retain information and experience dysfunction in perception, language, problem-solving, and social interactions.
Nurses will provide various forms of treatment. However, common types include:
- Physical therapy – this is the most effective treatment for cerebral palsy, and when started at a young age, it can help children develop coordination and strengthen muscles. the most
- Behavioral therapy for ADHD
- Drug therapy using stimulants for ADHD
- Educational interventions for ADHD