child's asthma

Asthma In Children: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Asthma is a condition that affects your child’s lungs. The most common signs of asthma are wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. These signs can also manifest themselves in other health problems. Therefore, it may be difficult for your doctor to diagnose asthma at first, especially in infants and young children.

Asthma can affect your child’s lungs for the rest of his life. Sometimes your child will feel better. Other times you will feel worse from asthma.

When your child’s asthma becomes a problem

When asthma becomes a problem, your child’s airways become much narrower. If this happens, your child has trouble breathing in and out of the lungs.

If your child has a problem with asthma, three things happen that cause the airways to narrow:

  1. The inner lining of the airways becomes inflamed and swollen. This is called inflammation.
  2. The muscles around the airways tighten. This is called bronchospasm or bronchoconstriction.
  3. The airways produce a large amount of a thick, clear liquid substance called mucus. This mucus is thicker than normal and can block the airways.

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Help your child feel better

You can help your child feel better in several ways:

  • Learn more about your child’s asthma by reading this page, reading other texts about asthma, and asking your doctor questions.
  • Make sure your child takes all the medicines exactly as the doctor has ordered.
  • Know what triggers your child’s asthma and try to avoid them.

Triggers make your child’s asthma worse

Triggers are the things that make your child’s asthma worse. Every asthmatic child suffers from different triggers. Talk to your doctor to find out what triggers are affecting your child, and how you can stay away from them.

Here are some of the common triggers:

  • infections such as colds and flu
  • cigarette or tobacco smoke
  • wood or oil smoke
  • substances that cause allergic reactions
  • pets
  • the air pollution
  • wet weather
  • the cold weather
  • medicines such as ASA (aspirin) or ibuprofen
  • strong odors or sprays
  • the exercise

Asthma medications

Asthma medicine can keep your child’s lungs healthy and prevent asthma from getting worse. These medicines do not cure asthma, but they can help keep your child’s lungs healthy.

Many of the medicines that your child may take for asthma are taken in by breathing. They are called inhaled medicines. Some of the best-inhaled medications for asthma are called corticosteroids.

Inhaled medications are very safe for children with asthma. Your child can wear them for years and grow to normal adult height.

After inhaling a medicine, your child should rinse his mouth or drink water or juice. This helps prevent yeast infection in the mouth.

The main types of inhaled medicine your child can take for asthma are called controller and pain reliever medicines.

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Medicines to control asthma

A controller medicine prevents swelling of the lining of the airways. Your child will have less swelling and mucus if he uses a controlled medicine every day. Some examples of inhaled controller medications are beclomethasone (Qvar), budesonide (Pulmicort), budesonide plus formoterol (Symbicort), ciclesonide (Alvesco), fluticasone (Flovent), and fluticasone plus salmeterol (Advair).

Your child will need to take a controlled medicine every day, even if he feels fine. Make sure your child keeps using the controller medicine until the doctor says they can stop.

Reliever medicines for asthma

The reliever helps treat asthma symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing.

The pain reliever relaxes the muscle around the airway. When the muscle relaxes, the airway opens. When the airway opens, your child breathes easier. Examples of pain relievers are salbutamol (Airomir or Ventolin) and terbutaline (Bricanyl).

Your child should use a pain reliever when he is having problems with asthma. When the doctor tells you that your child is better, you should stop using the pain reliever daily. The doctor may tell your child to use the pain reliever before exercising.

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Early warning symptoms that your child’s asthma is getting worse

Asthma problems can start slowly over hours or days. The small changes that occur in your child’s body when he is having asthma problems are called first warning signs.

The early warning signs are different for every child. They may not be easy to notice. The following are some of the most popular initial warning symptoms.

Things that can be seen or heard in the child

  • cough that does not go away
  • cough at night
  • wheezing
  • cough until you vomit
  • difficulty catching your breath
  • tiredness as soon as you start playing or exercising
  • breathing faster than usual
  • bad mood, complaints, lack of spirits
  • cold signs
  • sneezing

Things your child can tell you

  • “I’m tired.”
  • “My chest hurts.”
  • “It’s hard for me to breathe.”
  • “I make an ominous (hissing) sound when I breathe.”

What to do if your child has a first warning sign

If you see any of these early warning signs, follow the action plan you established with your doctor.

If you don’t have an action plan, check with your doctor to establish one.

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Danger symptoms that your child’s asthma is getting more serious

If your child suffers from any of the warning signs listed below, be sure to follow the action plan you established with the doctor.

  • can’t stop coughing and vomiting
  • it is difficult for him to speak
  • feels unusually sleepy and is difficult to wake up
  • lips or skin appear bluish in color
  • the skin on the neck or chest sags (pulls back) when your child breathes

Have your child take pain reliever medicine as directed in the action plan.

Go to the nearest emergency department or call for an ambulance.

Asthma and physical exercise

An asthmatic child can be active and play sports. All children should play and exercise. Your child needs to stay fit and play with other children.

Exercise can make asthma worse in some children

We know that exercise can make asthma worse in some children. Children can get warning signs of asthma during or after exercise.

There are things your child can do about asthma when exercising:

  • Your child will have fewer problems with exercise if he takes regular controlled medicines.
  • Make sure your child always starts and ends with easy, gentle exercises. These are called warm-up and cool-down exercises.
  • The doctor may tell your child to take the pain reliever before exercising. Remember that reliever medicine helps treat asthma symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing. If your child uses this medicine 15 to 20 minutes before exercising, it may decrease the warning signs of asthma.
  • Your child’s asthma worsens with exercise, he will need to exercise for short periods and rest between exercises.
  • If your child’s breathing begins to wheeze during exercise, you will need to stop the activity. Next, your child will need to follow the action plan that you established with the doctor.

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Important things to remember

Even when your child seems better, after he has had an asthma problem, the airways may remain swollen for 6 to 8 weeks or longer. Your child should keep taking the controller medicine.

You must follow the action plan that you established with your doctor. The action plan is a written plan that tells you and your child what to do each day to manage asthma. This plan also describes what to do if your child’s asthma gets more critical.

You can help prevent an asthma problem by trying to keep your child away from things that make his asthma worse (asthma triggers).

If your child is 6 years old or older, ask your doctor about the “puff test” for asthma, also called a lung function test. This test is used to diagnose and monitor asthma.

In case of emergency

See a doctor immediately if:

  • the reliever medicine does not work, or lasts less than 4 hours, OR
  • your child does not improve after 2-3 days, OR
  • your child is getting worse

Go to the nearest emergency department if:

  • your child cannot eat, sleep, or speak due to symptoms, OR
  • your child’s breathing seems short of breath, or the skin is pulling back in the throat or below the ribs, OR
  • extra doses of pain reliever do not work

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Key points

  • The most common signs of asthma are wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
  • When asthma becomes a problem, your child’s airways become much narrower and he has trouble breathing in and out of the lungs.
  • Make sure your child takes all the medicines exactly as the doctor has ordered.
  • Find out what triggers your child’s asthma and help him avoid them
  • If you see the first warning sign that your child’s asthma is getting worse, follow the action plan you established with the doctor.
  • Danger signs of asthma include slurred speech, unusual drowsiness or trouble waking up, bluish lips or skin, and sagging of the skin on the neck or chest when the child breathes. If you notice any of these symptoms, have your child take the reliever medicine. Go to the nearest emergency department or call for an ambulance.

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