Asthma in Children

Children’s airways are smaller than those of adults and because of this; they can become constricted more easily. Asthma is a long-term condition of inflammation (swelling) in the trachea and bronchial airways of the lungs. When children with asthma come in contact with lung irritants, the airways, which are already narrowed, become more swollen and produce more mucus, making it more difficult to breathe. There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled.

Some airway irritants include smoke, pet dander, pollen, dust, cold air and viral or bacterial respiratory infections. Asthmatics may also react to some foods and medications. Factors that are common for asthmatics include a family history of asthma, and recurrent allergy symptoms displayed by runny nose and watery eyes or eczema (an allergic skin condition). Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition where stomach acid goes up (the wrong way) and may reach your child’s airways causing irritation.

Asthma can range from mild to severe. Symptoms of asthma include coughing that is often worse at night or early morning, shortness of breath with physical activity and audible wheezing with breathing. A child may complain of tiring easily with just a little physical activity and having difficulty keeping up with his/her classmates.

Pulmonary function tests (PFT) are often used to establish a diagnosis of asthma. This measures the amount of air a child breathes in and out in a period of time. The progress of asthma may also be monitored with peak flow testing. This measures a child’s maximum expiration using a peak flow meter (small tube shaped device). Measurement of peak expiratory flow will help parents monitor their child’s asthma in their home. Allergy testing may also be helpful.

Treatment for childhood asthma depends on the severity of the disease. If the problem occurs only with exercise, he/she may be given a bronchodilator inhaler to use before exertion. If the problem is more persistent, other medications to decrease swelling and open the airway passages may be needed on a daily basis to prevent respiratory distress.

Chronic inflammation leads to permanent damage in a child’s small airways, making it harder for him to breathe. Having your child’s asthma treated will relieve their symptoms and let them lead an active life. If you believe your child has asthma, consult your healthcare provider. Adequate evaluation and treatment is imperative for this serious, but treatable condition.