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Asthma and Kids

Recognizing and treating asthma in kids is essential.

A child seeks help for asthma from a physician. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
A child seeks help for asthma from a physician.

Asthma and Kids

Parents and medical professionals strive to find the best treatments and management options when dealing with asthma and kids. According to the American Lung Association, asthma is the leading chronic illness of children in the United States. Asthma is also the third leading cause of hospitalization for children and one of the top reasons for children missing school. Asthma has no cure, but with a proactive medical plan, parents and doctors can work together to help kids control asthma.

What is Asthma?

The American Lung Association describes asthma as an inflammatory condition of the airways. The inflammation causes the airways to overreact, the muscles to contract and mucous to increase. The inflammation causes changes that produce chest tightness, wheezing and coughing. Luckily, most symptoms of asthma reverse and children have normal breathing patterns in between asthma attacks. Asthma is most common amongst school-aged children, although babies can also suffer from asthma

Types of Asthma in Children

Asthma differs in severity, and doctors will classify which type of asthma a child has based on the severity of the attacks. Children with mild intermittent asthma experience no more than two daytime attacks a week and no more than two nighttime attacks a month. These children do not need medication. Mild persistent asthma means a child experiences an attack more than twice a week, but not more than once a day. They will also have more than two nighttime attacks a month. These children need a low dose of medication. Moderate persistent asthma is diagnosed when children have daily daytime symptoms of asthma and experience problems more than once a week at night. These children need a medium to low dose of medication. Severe persistent asthma is diagnosed when children have daily and nightly symptoms of asthma. These children need high doses of medication.

Causes of Asthma in Children

Allergies account for over 50 percent of asthma attacks. Irritants in the air can also aggravate the lungs and trigger an asthma attack. According to Kids Health, common allergens and lung irritants for children include:

  • Dust mites
  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Animal dander
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfume
  • Chalk dust

Colds or infections can also cause asthma attacks, since the airways may become more sensitive. Temperature changes from hot to very cold are another cause of asthma attacks. There is also exercise-induced asthma, which causes children to have an asthma attack during strenuous activities.

Medicinal Treatments for Childhood Asthma

The American Academy of Family Physicians states that the purpose of asthma treatment is to reduce the wheezing and coughing, reduce the number of acute attacks, minimize side effects of treatments, sleep disturbances and school absences. For this reason, the medical profession has a variety of medications available for asthma treatment.

Inhaled bronchodilator medications help open airways during an asthma attack. Parents can administer this medication using an inhaler or nebulizer. Its beneficial for children with mild asthma and has little to no side effects.

Anti-inflammatory medications help children with mild persistent, moderate and severe asthma. This medication must be taken regularly, as it does not offer immediate relief, but rather prevents inflammation with continued use.

Systemic bronchodilator medications are very effective but do have side effects. This medication is available in capsules and is helpful for children with daily asthma symptoms.
Systemic corticosteroid medications are for severe asthma attacks, as prolonged use has serious side effects.

Lifestyle Changes that Help Control Asthma

Parents who prefer to try to limit the amount of prescription medication that a child takes, can try certain lifestyle changes to help the severity or frequency of asthma attacks. For children with allergy-related asthma, parents should keep the house as clean as possible. This includes washing bedding in hot water, buying dust proof covers for mattresses and pillows and removing stuffed animals. Pets should not be allowed on the furniture or beds, and regular bathing and brushing can help with excessive shedding and dander. Families should avoid smoking in the house and wearing heavy perfumes. Keeping a home free of mold and other irritants is also important for controlling asthma.

Understanding warning signs of an asthma attack can help reduce the severity. Families should make sure that children know the signs and symptoms of asthma. Children should be advised to stop strenuous activity if they experience shortness of breath or tightness in the chest. Parents should also teach children to discuss any signs or symptoms that occur at night so that parents are aware of a possible impending asthma attack.

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