Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways characterized by obstruction of airflow. The airways allow air to come in and out of the lungs. In asthma, these airways are inflamed and swollen. The muscles around the airways can tighten when a trigger comes in contact. This makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs and this causes symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and/or chest tightness.
Childhood asthma affects millions of children and their families. Majority of children develop asthma before the age of five. Asthma has no cure, but once it is properly diagnosed and a treatment plan is in place, management of the condition is easier and quality of life improves.
There are two types of asthma; allergic asthma which is caused by exposure to an allergen and non-allergic asthma caused by stress, exercise, illness, exposure to extreme weather, irritants in the air or some medication.
Asthma is associated with a personal or family history of allergies.
Things That Can Cause an Asthmatic Attack
- Allergens such as pollens from grass, weeds and tress, mold, dust mites, pet dander, etc.
- Certain foods and drugs
- Irritants in the air like smoke, chemical fumes and strong odors.
- Weather conditions; extreme cold or extremely dry or windy weather.
- Infections – viral or bacterial
- Emotions and hyperventilation (excessive deep breathing usually as a result of anxiety).
The two most common triggers of asthma in children are colds and allergens.
What are the Symptoms of Asthma in Children?
Most children will have symptoms before the age of 5 and sometimes it is hard for parents or doctors to realize it could be asthma. Below are some of the symptoms they may experience:
- Coughing, especially at night – the cough is usually nonproductive.
- Wheezing – this is a high pitched whistling sound and is usually during exhalation. It is the most common symptom of asthma.
- Difficulty breathing or fast breathing.
- Chest tightness.
How Asthma is Diagnosed
Diagnosis of asthma can be made using the following:
- Allergy testing – an allergist or immunologist can determine what is causing your child’s asthma. It is important to understand what triggers the symptoms and what makes it go away. Family history and environment is also important.
- Pulmonary Function Test – this is done for children above 5 years of age. This is to learn how air flows in their lungs.
- Full Blood Count (FBC) – to determine any underlying infections and to test for inflammation levels.
- Chest X-ray – to exclude complications and other diagnosis.
Management of Asthma in Children
Treatment of asthma is aimed to relieve symptoms and to prevent complications and recurrence.
The treatment is based on the severity and frequency of symptoms. Two kinds of medicines are usually prescribed:
- Quick relief – this is to deal with an asthmatic attack (coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath) and is usually in the form of an inhaler. It should be with the child at all times.
- Long-term control – this is needed to treat the inflammation of the airways and is taken daily to prevent asthma symptoms and attacks.
Other Treatment measures:
Any underlying infections would be treated appropriately. Children who experience recurrent acute exacerbations within a few days to weeks should be referred for specialist care and review of their treatment.
If asthma is left untreated, asthmatic children will often have less stamina than other children.
How to Prevent Asthmatic Attacks in Children
Prevention of symptoms is the best management. Parents and children should be aware of what triggers an attack and should avoid them whenever possible.
Children should be kept away from allergens and triggers.
Children should be dressed appropriately in weather conditions such as the cold.
Inhalers should be easily accessible to the child.
Early treatment should be sought in order to prevent complications.
• Standard Treatment Guidelines, Sixth Edition