Asthma in Children
Asthma is a breathing problem that can start at any age, and it is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood.
Statistics show that children under 18 years, having asthma is on the rise like an epidemic, and many others have "hidden" or undiagnosed asthma. Asthma is fast becoming one of the most common cause of school absenteeism and poor academic performance.
What are the symptoms in children that are indicative of asthma?
Infants (up to three years):
- a wheezing sound when breathing out
- coughing, wheezing
- prolonged coughing which gets worse at night
- a general feeling of being unwell
- recurrent colds
Children aged 3-15 years:
- a whistling sound while exhaling and inhaling
- prolonged coughing, which gets worse at night
- lethargy – reduction of energy while playing or sports
- see-saw motions (retractions) in the chest from laboured breathing
- frequent coughing spells, which may occur during playing, at night, or even while laughing
- rapid breathing
- complaint of chest tightness
- shortness of breath, loss of breath
Not all children exhibit similar asthma symptoms, and these symptoms may vary in each attack in the same child. Also not all wheezing or coughing is caused by asthma, it can be some other illness also.
What are the causes of asthma in children?
An asthma attack usually occurs at the time of cough and cold caused by viral infections.
Asthma is caused by allergic irritants like:
- Animal dander
- Dust mites
- Pollution, dust, smoke
What factors make a child more prone to develop asthma?
Certain factors put a child at more risk of developing asthma as compared to others. These include:
- Presence of allergies
- Family history of asthma and/or allergies
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Low weight at birth
- Exposure to tobacco smoke pre and/or post birth
- Boys are more vulnerable than females
- Skin colour – dark skinned children are more prone
Why is asthma becoming so common amongst children?
There is no specific reason as to why asthma is rising on an epidemic scale amongst children. However, it is suggested that because of the high rate of urbanization and changing lifestyle, children are being exposed to higher levels of allergens such as dust, air pollution and passive smoke. These factors are triggers of asthma.
Another school of thought suggests that children are not being exposed to enough childhood illnesses to build up a strong immune system. This is complemented by the decreasing rates of breastfeeding which have prevented important substances of the immune system from being passed on from mother to child.
What is hidden asthma?
Many children with asthma go undetected and untreated because they do not exhibit the apparent signs of asthma such as rapid breathing, wheezing and coughing. These children with asthma do suffer from some degree of airway obstruction; and unless it is brought under control, may have recurring bouts of attack and other respiratory illnesses.
As hidden asthma produces few obvious symptoms, it becomes difficult for a doctor also at times to diagnose normal breath sounds. In such dubious cases, the doctor usually advises a pulmonary function testing which will reveal the cases of airway obstruction.
Should a child be given asthma medication at a young age ?
Medication must always be given as prescribed by a professional doctor. Do not be your child’s doctor unless you are professionally qualified.
It is both necessary and helpful to give children medication so as to:
- remove the asthma symptoms so that they are able to play and exercise again, like other normal children.
- suppress the allergic reaction in the body and reduce the inflammation in the airways.
- lessen damaging effects on the lungs so that they develop naturally.
What type of medication is usually prescribed for children?
Asthma medications which are prescribed are generally of two main types:
- relievers (bronchodilators): these are quick-acting drugs that relax the muscles of the airways, and instantly relieve symptoms of wheezing, cough and breathlessness. There are 3 groups:
- Beta 2 agonists
- Anticholinergic drugs
- anti-inflammatories: these act over a longer expanse of time and work by reducing the inflammation within the airways.
There are three main groups of these:
- Leukotriene receptor antagonists
All medications are to be given to children only as prescribed by the doctor. Overdose or incorrect medicine may lead to other side-effects which may even be fatal.
Watch out for symptoms if your child is not responding to the drugs and seek medical help. Also, you as parents have to make an effort to see that the chills is kept away from asthma causing allergens.