Asthma is a chronic disease of the tubes that carry air to the lungs. These airways become narrow and their linings become swollen, irritated, and inflamed. The degree and severity of airway inflammation varies over time and can lead to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Anyone can have asthma, including infants and adolescents, however, the tendency to develop asthma is often inherited.
Many kids with asthma can breathe normally for weeks or months between flare-ups. When flare-ups do occur, they often seem to happen without warning. Actually, an asthma flare-up usually develops over time, involving a complicated process of increasing air way obstruction.
All children with asthma have airways that are inflamed, which means that they swell and produce thick mucus. In addition, their airways are also overly sensitive, or hyperactive, to certain asthma triggers. When exposed to these triggers, the muscles surrounding the airways tend to tighten, which makes the already clogged airways even narrower. Things that trigger flare-ups differ from person to person. Some common triggers are exercise, allergies, viral infections, and smoke.
Symptoms can be mild or very disruptive, can occur sporadically or daily, and can be different for each child with asthma. Often there is a family history of asthma, but a childs symptoms may be different from an adult.
Common symptoms include:
- Whistling or wheezing sound when breathing out
- Shortness of breath
- Chest congestion or tightness
- Trouble sleeping due to cough or wheeze
- Cough or wheeze that gets worse with a cold
- Shortness of breath with exercise or playing
So an asthma flare-up is caused by three important changes in the airways:
swelling of the lining of the airways excess mucus that results in congestion and mucus "plugs" that get caught in the narrowed airways bronco-constriction, which refers to the tightening of the muscles surrounding the airways. Together, the swelling, excess mucus, and bronco-constriction narrow the airways and make it difficult to move air through (like breathing through a straw). During an asthma flare-up, kids may experience coughing, wheezing (a breezy whistling sound in the chest when breathing), chest tightness, increased heart rate, sweating, and shortness of breath.
Diagnosing asthma can be tricky and time-consuming because kids with asthma can have very different patterns of symptoms. For example, some kids cough constantly at night but seem fine during the day, while others seem to get frequent chest colds that don't go away. It's not uncommon for kids to have symptoms like these for months before being seen by a doctor.
When considering a diagnosis of asthma, it may be necessary to rule out other possible causes of a child's symptoms. We may ask questions about the family's asthma and allergy history, perform a physical exam, and possibly order labs.
During this process, parents should provide the Pediatrician with detailed information, such as: symptoms: how severe they are, when and where they occur, how frequently they occur, how long they last, and how they go away allergies: the child's and the family's allergy history, illnesses: how often the child gets colds, how severe they are, and how long they last triggers: exposure to allergens and things in the air that can irritate the airways, recent life changes or stressful events, or other things that seem to lead to a flare-up.
This information helps the doctor understand the pattern of symptoms, which can help determine what type of asthma the child has and how best to treat it.
To confirm the diagnosis of asthma, a breathing test may be performed using a spirometer, a machine that analyzes airflow through the airways. A spirometer can also be used to see if the child's breathing problems can be helped with medication, a primary characteristic of asthma. The doctor may take a spirometer reading, give the child an inhaled medication that opens the airways, and then take another reading to see if breathing improves with medication. If medication reverses airway narrowing significantly, as indicated by improved airflow, then there's a strong possibility that the child has asthma.
If your child is diagnosed with asthma, it's important to learnhow manager asthma. Educate yourselfabout asthma and learn to identify and eliminate triggers.
Help your child keep an asthma diary, develop and follow an asthma action plan, and take medications as prescribed. In addition, a peak flow meter a hand-held tool that measures breathing ability can be used at home. When peak flow readings drop, it's a sign of increasing airway inflammation.
If you think your child may have some of the symptoms of asthma make an appointment. Early diagnosis will help control acute symptoms and a care plan will be developed to control flare-ups. If your child has been diagnosed follow your instructed care plan. Start the prescribed medication at the first sign of symptoms. You may have been instructed to also begin a steroid or have a nebulizer at home to begin treatments. If you are giving medications and your child is continuing to have symptoms make an appointment to be seen as soon as possible.
Common Triggers of Asthma
- Respiratory infections and colds
- General irritants- smoke, scented sprays, incense, fresheners, paint fumes, air pollution, etc.
- Allergens- dust, animal dander, pollens, mold, mildew, etc.
- Strenuous exercise running, playing, exercise
- Other- stress, emotions
Ways to avoid triggers
- Avoid exposure to colds and infections. Use good hand washing hygiene
- Avoid smoke
- Keep living area free of triggers