All you need to know about asthma in children can be found in our comprehensive discussion with a doctor and a pediatric pulmonologist, who have come together to answer your most important questions regarding this common respiratory condition in young patients.
A child who is battling to breathe is the most painful sight imaginable. Whether your child has recently been diagnosed with asthma or you feel he or she is experiencing symptoms, you likely have a number of questions. You likely have some reservations as well. For instance, you may wish to know what asthma is and/or what causes it. You likely want to know the symptoms and warning signs of asthma and an impending attack. And finally, you will want to know how to obtain your child the correct treatment so that he or she may breathe easily again.
We spoke with a physician and pediatric pulmonologist (lung specialist) in order to answer your most pressing questions regarding children and asthma. Continue reading to learn more.
What Is Pediatric Asthma?
Childhood asthma is the term used to describe asthma in children under the age of 18. Asthma is a chronic condition that causes a child to experience coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and/or chest tightness because of inflammation, narrowing of the small airways, and obstruction of airflow, according to Dr. Kelsey Malloy, pediatric pulmonologist and medical director at Pediatrix Pulmonology in Nashville.
Christina Johns, M.D., a pediatric emergency physician and senior medical adviser for PM Pediatric Care, says that childhood asthma is typically classified according to the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms. Dr. Johns states that asthma can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe.
How Often Is It?
Asthma is more prevalent than you would think. Over 6 million children under the age of 18 have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); that’s one in every 12 children. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), childhood asthma is one of the most prevalent chronic disorders. Approximately 44% of children under 18 with asthma will experience at least one asthma attack each year. According to the American Asthma and Allergy Association (AAFA), asthma is a prevalent reason for school absences among children of school age.
Yet, it is essential to realize that asthma does not affect all children equally. Male babies are more likely than female babies to get asthma symptoms as children. In addition, asthma is more prevalent among black children than among white children. According to the AAFA, they are three times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma.
Why Do Children Get Asthma?
According to Dr. Johns, “the precise origin of asthma is unknown, but it is believed that it is partially inherited.” So, if you or your partner have asthma, your children have an increased risk of developing the condition. Yet, according to Dr. Malloy, there are various causes for a youngster to acquire asthma. She states that research is ongoing to determine why some children are harmed while others are not.
According to Dr. Malloy, several risk factors may increase the likelihood that children will acquire asthma or provoke asthma symptoms in youngsters. They consist of the following:
- Indoor or outdoor pollution exposure.
- Such allergens include animals, dust, pollen, and mold.
- Exposure to cigarette, vape, and wood-burning smoke.
- Viruses, especially RSV, appear to enhance the risk of asthma.
However, according to a recent study, gas-burning stoves may be responsible for up to 12.7% of childhood asthma cases in the United States.
Why? Because gas stoves can produce substantial volumes of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant that can aggravate asthma and other respiratory disorders.
There are various factors that occur during pregnancy or early childhood that may increase the risk of asthma in children. Dr. Johns explains, “Some children may have asthma because they have chronic lung illness or were born preterm, both of which increase the chance of developing asthma.”
Dr. Malloy concludes by explaining that a family history of allergies, such as eczema, may raise the chance of asthma in your child. She adds that children with a history of reflux or sleep apnea may have more trouble managing their asthma.
What Are the Symptoms of Asthma, Especially in Children?
The most prevalent symptoms of childhood asthma are:
- Stiff chest and respiration.
- Cough that persists, especially after resting down.
- Labored, rapid respiration.
- Not receiving enough oxygen and fighting to breathe causes exhaustion.
- The whistling-like sound produced by wheezing.
- Inability to coordinate sucking and swallowing (in breast- and bottle-fed babies)
But, according to Dr. Malloy, occasionally the indicators of a child’s difficulty breathing can be more subtle. “Parents may observe a dry cough that persists for several weeks after a child recovers from a cold virus. Also, they may note a cough that keeps their child awake at night “she explains. In addition, young toddlers cannot always explain what is happening. Dr. Malloy explains, “Young children may not be able to verbalize how they are feeling or whether breathing is challenging.”
How Is Asthma in Children Diagnosed?
According to Dr. Malloy, there is no single test to identify asthma. She notes, “Diagnosis of asthma requires a comprehensive evaluation of a child’s medical conditions, family history, and environmental exposures.” It might be especially challenging to identify asthma in younger children. “Asthma symptoms can manifest early in life and can be difficult to distinguish from recurrent viral symptoms, given that newborns and toddlers can have wheezing due to infections,” she explains.
In addition to a complete medical history, asthma may be diagnosed using the following tests and diagnostic assessments:
- Radiographs of the chest.
- Tests that assess lung function, such as spirometry.
- To determine if an allergy may trigger your child’s asthma, tests are administered.
How to Deal with It?
Asthma is treated by avoiding potential triggers, such as allergens and secondhand smoke. In addition, asthma is typically managed with medication administered through an inhaler, inhaler with spacer, or nebulizer.
According to Dr. Johns, asthma medications focus on treating the swelling and inflammation that occurs in the airway, as well as any wheezing, coughing, or hard breathing. “Inhaled bronchodilators like albuterol are used to widen the airways in the lungs, while steroids like dexamethasone or prednisone are used to relieve inflammation,” she continues. Dr. Johns notes that children with chronic asthma may require a daily inhaler to prevent asthma episodes.
The good news is that asthma medicines are highly successful, and adhering to your child’s asthma plan will typically result in fewer asthma attacks, doctor visits, and emergency room visits. Nonetheless, you should never disregard signals of an asthma attack in your child, even if they receive treatment.
“Parents should seek medical assistance if their child’s cough, wheezing, or trouble breathing does not improve with asthma quick-relief drugs such as albuterol,” Dr. Malloy advises. She adds that rapid breathing or breathing so quickly that your youngster cannot speak, eat, drink, or play is also cause for concern.
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