Asthma affects the small tubes (airways) that carry air in and out of the lungs, also known as the bronchi. The airways of the lungs are more sensitive in children with asthma. Something that irritates your child’s lungs is a called a trigger. Triggers cause the airways to narrow, inflame the lining of the airways and tightens the muscles. Also there is an increase in the production of sticky phlegm. The symptoms are wheezing, coughing (especially at night) and shortness of breath making the child’s chest feel tight.
An asthma attack is a sudden and severe onset of symptoms. Asthma attacks can sometimes be managed at home but may require hospital treatment. They are occasionally life threatening.
Asthma is common and a long-term condition that can be well controlled in most children. The severity of asthma symptoms varies from very mild to more severe. It is more common in boys but as children get older and especially post puberty, asthma is more common in girls.
Once your child reaches his teenage years the symptoms of asthma may disappear. However, asthma can return in adulthood. If your child’s asthma is quite severe or even moderate it is more likely that it will remain during adolescence and also increases the chance of returning in adulthood.
The cause of asthma is not fully understood. It is known that asthma often runs in families and a child is more likely to have asthma if one or both parents have the condition.
Triggers (differs amongst children)
- An upper respiratory tract infection is the most common trigger, for example a cold, flu and other viruses which affect the nose, throat and windpipe
- Exercise is a very common trigger of asthma in children and can be exacerbated by cold weather
- Allergens, for examples: pollen, dust mites, animal fur or feathers
- Pollution and airborne irritants, for example cigarette smoke, chemical fumes
- A sudden change in weather conditions or temperature
- Mould, damp and sometimes chemicals found in carpets and other flooring
- Stress or laughing
- Food allergies – when this is severe, it is known as anaphylaxis.
- “oods containing sulphites – sulphites are naturally occurring substances found in some food and drink. They are also sometimes used as a food preservative. Most children with asthma will not have this trigger.
- Medicines, such as the class of painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which includes aspirin and ibuprofen
- There are some conditions, such as rhinitis and sinusitis, which are known to trigger asthma. In children with asthma and allergic rhinitis, treating the allergic rhinitis as well as the asthma can help bring the asthma under control.
It is not fully understood what the cause of asthma is. We know that it can run in families. Certainly if one or more of the parents has asthma then it is more likely that their child will suffer from it.
Severe asthma attacks
Symptoms of a severe asthma attack include:
- Your child’s inhaler is not helping the symptoms at all
- The wheezing, coughing and tight chest are severe and constant
- Your child’s breathing is very fast and too breathless to talk properly or feed
- His pulse is racing
- Your child is agitated and restless
- Your child’s lips and finger nails look blue
If your child or someone else is having a severe asthma attack and they are unable to breathe, dial for an ambulance immediately to get emergency medical treatment.
Other help can be found with:
- Complementary therapies
- Regular reviews with your doctor
- Keeping healthy – it is recommended children with asthma exercise at least 60 minutes a day through physical activity. They should be slightly sweaty and out of breath but not so much that they cannot speak. If they seem reluctant to exercise it can be a sign that their asthma is not under control.
- Never smoke around your child
- Some children with asthma are encouraged to get an annual flu jab to try and avoid a bout of flu (influenza)
- Some children with asthma are advised to get an anti-pneumococcal vaccination. This is an injection (one-off) that protects against serious chest infections called pneumococcal pneumonia.
With the help of your doctor your aim is to obtain the right treatment to get your child’s asthma under control and for it to remain that way. Asthma treatments are effective in most children and should allow them to be free from symptoms and lead a normal life.
By Eirian Hallinan