Asthma 101

Asthma is the most common chronic disorder in childhood. An estimated 6.1 million children under 18 years of age, are currently living with asthma. Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absence. It’s also the third leading cause of hospitalizations for children under 15. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes the airways in the lungs to swell and narrow. Mucus production is kicked into over-drive and can cause obstructions in the narrowing airways. But don’t worry, if you’ve been diagnosed with asthma you’re in good company! These celebrities also have asthma.

There is no cure for asthma, but it can be managed and controlled. Signs and symptoms of asthma vary from person to person, but the primary symptoms are :

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheeze
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Retractions

Other signs and symptoms :

  • Trouble sleeping due to shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • Bouts of coughing or wheezing that get worse with a cold or the flu
  • Delayed recovery or bronchitis after a respiratory infection
  • Trouble breathing that hampers play or exercise
  • Fatigue, which can be due to poor sleep

For some people, asthma is only triggered by certain situations, such as exercise or airborne pollutants. Triggers vary from child to child and can include:

  • Viral infections such as the common cold
  • Exposure to air pollutants, such as tobacco smoke
  • Allergies to dust mites, pet dander, pollen or mold
  • Physical activity
  • Weather changes or cold air

Asthma attacks can also occur without any trigger. Childhood asthma can cause bothersome daily symptoms that interfere with play, sports, school and sleep. In some children, un-managed asthma can cause dangerous asthma attacks.

Factors that might increase your child’s likelihood of developing asthma include:

  • Exposure to tobacco smoke, including before birth
  • Previous allergic reactions, including skin reactions, food allergies or hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
  • A family history of asthma or allergies
  • Living in an area with high pollution
  • Obesity
  • Respiratory conditions, such as a chronic runny or stuffy nose (rhinitis), inflamed sinuses (sinusitis) or pneumonia
  • Heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD)
  • Being male
  • Being black or Puerto Rican

Careful planning and avoiding asthma triggers are the best ways to prevent asthma attacks, and ALWAYS have your Asthma Action Plan.

Asthma action plan

Work with your child’s doctor to create a written asthma action plan. This can be an important part of treatment, especially if your child has severe asthma. An asthma action plan can help you and your child:

  • Recognize when you need to adjust long-term control medications
  • Determine how well treatment is working
  • Identify the signs of an asthma attack and know what to do when one occurs
  • Know when to call a doctor or seek emergency help

Children who have enough coordination and understanding might use a hand-held device to measure how well they can breathe (peak flow meter). A written asthma action plan can help you and your child remember what to do when peak flow measurements reach a certain level.

The action plan might use peak flow measurements and symptoms to categorize your child’s asthma into zones, such as the green zone, yellow zone and red zone. These zones correspond to well-controlled symptoms, somewhat-controlled symptoms and poorly controlled symptoms. This makes tracking your child’s asthma easier.

Your child’s symptoms and triggers are likely to change over time. You’ll need to observe symptoms and work with the doctor to adjust medications as needed.

If your child’s symptoms are completely controlled for a time, your child’s doctor might recommend lowering doses or stopping asthma medications (step-down treatment). If your child’s asthma isn’t as well-controlled, the doctor might want to increase, change or add medications (step-up treatment).

Sources for this article include:

Click to access asthma-101-booklet.pdf

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