Asthma in children is more common than you’d think: an estimated one in five of all kids have asthma at some point. Of course, when it happens to your child, parents naturally panic. In actual fact, asthma is a very treatable and manageable ailment, when you know what to look for.
Asthma is essentially a condition where the lungs start to inflame when certain ‘triggers’ occur – catching a cold, inhaling pollen, cold weather, exercise. The childhood version is similar to the adult version: however, as the patient is young and unable to manage the condition themselves, certain precautions need to be taken by parents.
The symptoms of childhood asthma
There are many different symptoms generated by asthma in children – a cough that flares up from time to time, wheezy breathing, shortness of breath, etc. The knock-on effects can lead to a cycle of problems: the child often finds it difficult to sleep, which leads to fatigue, delayed recovery after illness, and so on. Many things can trigger an asthma attack, from animal hairs, pollution and passive smoking to exertion and even sudden emotional responses such as laughing and crying.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for asthma – although it can often disappear in children– but it is manageable. The treatment is usually very straightforward: most children are prescribed a steroid inhaler (which is coloured red, orange or brown), along with a salbutamol type bronchodilator (which is coloured blue).
The steroid inhaler is used to prevent symptoms and the salbutamol type bronchodilator is used to treat any symptoms that occur and as a preventative measure before strenuous activity. The inhalers (better known as ‘puffers’) will usually be metered dose: they should always be used with a spacer (the large see-through tube), although masks can be fitted to the receiving end of the spacers for children under five.
Obviously, younger children can’t and should never be relied upon to manage their own treatment, and I find that part of my role is to advise parents: presenting them with the full facts, allaying fears, and coaching them how to guide their child through this period of treatment. We know from experience how daunting the course of treatment can be for young children (and how annoying it can be for the older ones!) and also how stressful the situation can be for parents. Older children, especially teenagers need to know the warning symptoms and how to manage their asthma.
I can also point out potential ‘triggers’ in your child’s environment that should be eliminated to prevent asthma attacks. For some children, these can include reducing pet hairs or keeping dust to a minimum. I can also show you how to ease an asthma-treating regime into your child’s life without disruption or causing anxiety.