Asthma is a disease that causes breathing difficulties. A child with asthma may wheeze, cough, or often be short of breath. These problems happen because of the swelling of the airways in the lungs, which makes them narrow along with increased mucus.
Asthma is a common condition among children and teens, and it often runs in families. It can vary from mild to such severity asthma that prevents a child from doing normal daily activities.
While there is no known definite cure for pediatric asthma, with the right action plan, it’s possible to manage the symptoms and allow the child to live a normal life.
What is Childhood Asthma?
Asthma is a disease that affects the airways of the lungs. Asthma attacks make breathing difficult and sometimes even impossible.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately 27 million Americans have asthma. It is the most commonly found chronic condition among children in America. Out of every 12 children in the U.S., one child has asthma.
To better understand the disease, you should first understand the way breathing works.
Normally, air flows through your nose and down your throat each time you take a breath, eventually reaching your lungs. Your lungs have lots of small air passages that allow oxygen to get into the bloodstream.
When asthma occurs, your airways swell, and the muscles surrounding them constrict. Mucus enters the airways, making it difficult or impossible for air to pass through. When this happens, a person experiences an asthma attack – chest tightness, wheezing and coughing typical for asthma.
Inflammation of the bronchial tubes is one of the main characteristics of asthma. It is followed by increased production of mucus, a sticky secretion that fills the airways and makes it more difficult to breathe.
How Does a Child Get Asthma?
Scientists haven’t identified a single cause for asthma. American Academy researchers believe that several factors cause the condition in children, including:
Genetics – asthma often runs in the family, so if one of the parents has asthma, a child is likely to develop it, too.
Viral infections – children who have a history of viral infections are more prone to developing asthma
The hygiene hypothesis – proposing that babies are often overprotected and not exposed enough to bacteria in their earliest months, and sometimes even years. Their immune system doesn’t become resilient enough to fight conditions like asthma.
Exposure to allergens – Children who are in frequent contact with known common allergens may have an increased risk of developing asthma.
What Triggers Asthma in Children?
Some environmental conditions may trigger asthma symptoms. They may include:
- Respiratory illnesses like pneumonia or flu may trigger asthma attacks.
- Exercise is a common asthma trigger
- Air irritants such as chemical allergens, smoke, and strong odors may trigger attacks in people with asthma.
- Extreme weather such as extremely low temperatures or high humidity may also trigger an attack.
- Strong emotions and crying, shouting, or laughing can trigger asthma as well.
The list of all asthma triggers is quite extensive and doesn’t end here.
When a child gets exposed to a trigger, his body releases agents that may cause an inflammation process in the airways. The system releases many factors that may affect the child’s airways – some may tighten the tissue; some may make the airways smaller. An increase in mucus production also blocks the airways as the fluid fills the tubes.
What Causes Childhood Asthma?
The most common cause of asthma in children under the age of 5 is a history of upper respiratory viral infections. Children who often come down with the common cold are prone to developing asthma.
However, there is a wide range of risk factors for developing asthma in children. Some of them include:
- Family history of asthma or other respiratory conditions such as allergies or atopy.
- Frequent problems with respiratory infections
- Low weight at birth
- Being male
- Exposure to smoke, especially tobacco smoke, during pregnancy or after birth
- Living in a low-income environment.
Asthma Symptoms in Children
Some of the most common childhood asthma symptoms include:
- The child is coughing right after walking or while laughing, running, or playing. Coughing is often the only symptom of asthma.
- Energy drop throughout the day and especially during playtime
- Frequent episodes of rapid breathing
- Chest retractions that happen when gasping for air
- Frequent shortness of breath
- Feelings of fatigue and weakness
- Tightened neck muscles
Not every child has the same symptoms. Asthma symptoms may vary from day to day or even from episode to episode in the same child. However, it’s important to understand that just because your child coughs, doesn’t mean he or she has asthma. Also, for sleep, you can read our article on sleep apnea in children if you are worried about your child having poor quality sleep.
Prevention of Asthma
Suggestions for preventing asthma symptoms include considering the following:
Reducing contact with dust mites: many airborne substances trigger asthma symptoms, so it’s best to reduce the child’s contact with those substances. Keep your child away from dust, second-hand smoke, and air pollution.
Pets: Until recently, scientists believed that exposure to pets and other animals since early childhood promotes the development of asthma. However, new research suggests that early exposure to animals protects children from developing various diseases, including asthma. Children who are raised on farms among many animals are less prone to developing the disease than children who live in the cities with little contact with animals.
Tobacco smoke: It’s essential to protect your children from tobacco smoke exposure before and after birth. Women who smoke during pregnancy increase the risk of their children wheezing right after birth. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at a higher risk of developing many chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma.
Treatment of Asthma in Children
Asthma can be treated, although it can’t be fully healed. However, the right treatment will ease the symptoms and prevent attacks. When it comes to asthma treatment, there are three crucial ingredients:
Avoiding triggers – After you identify your child’s triggers, it’s important to avoid exposing your child to them. For example, if one of the triggers is dust or mold, you need to make sure your house is free of both.
Breathing exercises – Breathing exercises can help the child improve their asthma control and greatly reduce symptoms of coughing, wheezing and breathlessness. Buteyko breathing exercises for asthma have shown significant results. Buteyko Clinic International breathing program is free of charge for children and available on Buyteko Children webpage.
First aid medicine – Medications should only be used in the case of an asthma attack. Some of them include rescue inhalers and nebulizers, bronchodilators, or anti-inflammatories. They provide the child with quick relief and help him breathe. You can learn more about the Buteyko method here.