Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. Recurrent episodes of wheezing (coarse, whistling sound during breathing), shortness of breath, chest tightness, and cough are indicators that a person may be having an asthma attack. Asthma can be mild to severe, intermittent to chronic. The one crucial thing to remember is that even when the symptoms are mild, asthma should not be taken for granted. Without prompt medical care, asthma can end up in severe respiratory distress and in rare instances, death.
Asthma usually begins to develop in early childhood years. It is considered the most common chronic disease of childhood affecting approximately 12.5 percent of children. Some factors commonly associated with asthma episodes in children include viral respiratory infections, allergies, family history of allergy, and atopy, or the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases. Asthma exacerbations are usually the consequence of respiratory viral infections, especially rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections.
Parents of children with asthma usually feel helpless when their kids are having an asthma episode. More often than not, parents fear that their children will never be able to lead a normal life because of their respiratory condition. Managing a child with asthma is not that difficult, and a child can still experience a good quality of life even after being diagnosed as asthmatic. The key to coping is to become as educated as possible about the illness and the ways to control it.
Children with asthma have hyper-responsive airways. When exposed to certain “triggers” like infections, extreme weather conditions, physical activity, cigarette smoke, pet dander, molds, and dust mites, their airway muscles become inflamed. Inflammation then causes the bronchial tree to tighten, making it hard for them to breathe.
Diagnosing asthma in very young kids is a rather tricky task for most doctors because children often suffer from colds and chest infections accompanied with wheezes and cough but this is not necessarily asthma. The truth is, young kids are very prone at developing wheezes because they have very small, narrow airways and commonly suffer from six to eight colds per year on the average.
Many doctors are hesitant to give a diagnosis of asthma particularly to young infants, as there are a number of other conditions that may be responsible for the development of asthma-like symptoms. Children and toddlers, for instance, can wheeze when they are afflicted with viral infections. Children with bronchiolitis may also wheeze during breathing. In addition, since there is no available diagnostic test for children less than six years old, coming up with a diagnosis in this age group is more problematic than in older children.
The best way to manage children with asthma is to administer medication exactly as ordered by the doctor and to avoid the triggers that spark asthma attacks. Medications usually consist of “preventive drugs’ which are taken daily to make the airways less sensitive, as well as “reliever drugs” that make breathing less difficult when the child is having an episode. For better outcome, find a doctor that specializes in respiratory disorders such as asthma. A specialist can very well explain to you your child’s condition and provide you with an action plan laying out how to manage asthma at home. Having said that, do not hesitate to ask questions if you have further concerns and if it helps to write down instructions, please do.
Asthma can begin at any age – although most cases start in childhood, with a few cases starting to appear in adulthood (adult-onset asthma). Some fortunate children “grow out” of asthma, while for others the condition may be life-long. Nevertheless, it’s very important as a parent to fully understand the condition and work closely with a specialist to help keep asthma attacks under control.