Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the function and lining of the airways or tubes of the lungs. It narrows the airways and makes it difficult to breathe.
There are different degrees of asthma. Some children may have mild asthma with rare flare-ups. Others may have a severe, constant asthma.
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Tightening of the muscles around the airway and chronic inflammation cause airways to narrow. This makes it hard to breathe.
The exact causes of asthma are unknown, but genetics play a role.
Certain conditions are known to trigger an asthma attack. These include:
- Respiratory infection—more common in younger children
- Exercise, especially in cold air—more common in teenagers
Substances that cause allergies include:
- Animal dander
- Food, rarely
- Sinus infections
- Tobacco smoke or other chemical irritants
- Sudden change in weather
Factors that may increase your child’s chance of asthma include:
Symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble breathing
- Chest tightness
- Complaints of chest pain
- Difficulty during feeding in infants
- Trouble sleeping
- Avoiding exercise or sports
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen to your child’s lungs. Your child may be referred to a specialist. A pulmonologist focuses on the lungs. An allergist/immunologist focuses on allergies.
Your child's lungs may be tested. This can be done with:
- Spirometry test
- Challenge test
- Medication trial
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with x-ray .
Your child may be tested for common allergens that may trigger symptoms. This can be done with skin testing .
Your child's oxygen concentration may be measured. This can be done with pulse oximetry.
Talk with your child’s doctor about the best plan for your child. You and your child's doctor should also create an asthma action plan. This is a plan your child will follow to help control asthma and handle asthma attacks. Treatment will vary based on symptoms and the number of asthma episodes your child has. It is important that you stick to your child's treatment plan.
Treatment options include the following:
You can help your child reduce the chance of triggering an asthma attack by making lifestyle changes, such as:
- Know what your child is allergic to and avoid known triggers. These may include certain pollen, dust, foods, and air pollution.
- Avoid outside activities if there are high levels of air pollution, pollen, or mold spores.
- Keep your windows closed during seasons with high pollen or mold spores. Air conditioning may help filter out allergens during warm seasons.
- Consider getting a portable HEPA unit air cleaner to use in sleeping areas, for your heating/cooling system, and your vacuum cleaner.
- Avoid exposing your child to tobacco smoke.
- Have proper heating, cooling, and ventilation systems in your home.
- Keep the humidity down in your house. This may help prevent the growth of mold.
Medications used to treat asthma fall into one of two categories:
- Short-term medications used to treat an asthma attack, such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids
- Long-term control medications to relax the airways and keep them from tightening, such as inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists
In addition to the medications, children older than six months should get a yearly flu shot . Children with asthma are at a higher risk of having complications from the flu.
Your child’s asthma may be triggered by allergies. In this case, your doctor may advise allergy shots . These shots are small amounts of an allergen injected into the skin. Over time, your child will react less to the specific allergen(s). With less triggers, the asthma also decreases.
Sublingual immunotherapy may also be used. This type of treatment involves putting the allergic substances under the tongue, rather than using allergy shots.
There are no known ways to prevent your child from developing asthma. You can encourage your child with asthma to reduce the risk of asthma episodes by following the treatment plan and avoiding triggers. General guidelines include:
- Avoid strong chemicals or odors like perfume.
- Avoid challenging outdoor exercise during days with high air pollution, a high pollen count, or a high ozone level.
- If cold weather triggers your asthma, avoid strenuous activities in cold weather. If you must, use a scarf or mask to warm the air before it reaches your lungs.
- Avoid secondhand smoke. Do not allow anyone to smoke in your home.
- Don't use a wood-burning stove or fireplace, including unvented gas fireplaces.
- Michael Woods, MD
- Reviewed: 08/2014
- Updated: 08/21/2014
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