Asthma is a disorder caused by inflammation in the airways that lead to the lungs. This inflammation causes airways to tighten and narrow, which blocks air from flowing freely to the lungs, making it hard to breathe.
Childhood asthma isn’t different than asthma in adults but children do face unique challenges. Asthma in children is a leading cause of emergency room visits, hospitalization, and missed school days.
There are many risk factors for developing childhood asthma. These include:
- presence of allergies
- family history of allergies or asthma
- frequent respiratory infections
- low birth weight
- exposure to tobacco smoke before or after birth
Why are more children being diagnosed with asthma? No one knows exactly why. It could be more children are being exposed to allergens such as pollen, dust, air pollution and smoke. These are all triggers of asthma. Some experts suspect that children are not exposed to enough childhood illnesses to build up their immune systems.
There are signs and symptoms you can look for if you suspect your child may have asthma:
- less energy during play
- rapid breathing
- complaining of chest tightness or chest hurting
- labored breathing
- shortness of breath or loss of breath
- wheezing when breathing in and out
- tightened neck and chest muscles
- feeling of weakness or tiredness
Not all children have the same symptoms, and they can vary from day to day. Also, not all coughing or wheezing is caused by asthma.
The causes of childhood asthma are not fully known. An overly sensitive immune system seems to play a role. Some other factors are thought to be inherited traits, some type of airway infection at an early age, and exposure to environmental factors (such as smoke or air pollution).
Increased immune system sensitivity causes the lungs and airways to become swollen and produce mucus when exposed to certain triggers. These triggers can include viral infections such as the common cold, exposure to air pollutants, allergies to dust mites, pet dander or mold, physical activity, weather changes or cold air.
Treating asthma requires both preventing symptoms and treating an asthma attack in progress. Preventative, long-term control medications reduce the inflammation in your child’s airways that lead to symptoms. Quick-relief medications quickly open swollen airways that are limiting breathing. Most children use a combination of both long-term control medications and quick-relief medications. In some cases, medications are needed to treat the child’s allergies as well.
Types of long-term medications include:
- Inhaled corticosteroids
- Leukotriene modifiers
- Combination inhalers
Quick-relief medications include:
- Short-acting beta agonists
- Oral and intravenous corticosteroids
It is important to work with you doctor to come up with an asthma action plan. A child’s symptoms and triggers will likely change over time so it is important to work with your doctor to monitor any changes and make adjustments to your treatment plan.
[About the author: Dave Boblenz, PharmD, is a pharmacist with over 14 years ofexperience. He operates www.pharmacytechniciancertification.com.]
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