by Melissa Lichocik – Registered Nurse and Owner at The Healthful Mum
Asthma is a chronic disease, meaning it is an illness which lasts for a long time. While most people with asthma lead very normal lives, there are times when their asthma “flares up” which can cause them to become quite unwell.
Asthma in children is quite common and affects 1 in 6 children under the age of 14. While there is a myth that you “out grow” asthma, this is untrue. Asthma symptoms will never totally go away and can return at anytime. So even if you suffered from asthma as a child and have not had any symptoms for many years, asthma can suddenly develop again and catch you off guard.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is an illness, which affects the bronchioles (small breathing tubes in the lungs). These tubes are known as “airways.”
People with asthma have sensitive and “twitchy” airways that are sensitive to certain “triggers”.
These triggers cause the airways to:
- Become narrow and tight which makes it hard for the air to move in and out of the lungs.
- Become swollen and inflamed
- Produce extra mucous which clog up the airways
Asthma in young children is often hard to diagnose, as there are many viruses that cause wheezing.
So how is asthma diagnosed in young children?
Usually asthma is diagnosed by:
– Recurrent episodes of wheezing
– A strong family history of asthma
– Doctors may trial the child on asthma medication to see if it makes a difference. If it does then it is likely to be asthma
– There are medical tests which can be done to determine asthma but most require breathing coordination, so it is unable to be done in young children under 5
What are the symptoms of asthma?
– Persistent coughing (usually a dry cough)
– Shortness of breathe. The child may be able to tell you that they are having difficulty in breathing if they are old enough to do so.
– Wheezing (a high pitched noise coming from the lungs). You are not always able to hear this and sometimes may only be heard with a stethoscope.
– Feeling of tightness in the chest (again, older children may be able to tell you this)
– Vomiting or complaining of an upset stomach. Some children are unable to tell the difference between their tummy and their chest so they may mix up the two. Other children may vomit if an asthma attack occurs after they have eaten a lot.
People with asthma tend to have certain “triggers” which set of their asthma symptoms. These can vary from person to person and aren’t always the same for everyone with asthma.
Some common triggers are:
– Colds and flus are the most common trigger among adults and children with asthma. If this is a know trigger for you or your child then speak with your GP about treatment plans
– Allergens: an “Allergen” is something that causes an allergic response. Common allergens are house dust mite, animal hair, mould, grasses and pollens. There are ways to be tested to see what your child is allergic from so just speak with your doctor.
– Smoke: can include cigarette smoke, bushfire smoke or smoke from a bonfire. Avoid if you can. Stay away from cigarette smoke and bonfire smoke. If there is a bushfire in your area, stay indoors with the doors and windows closed.
– Exercise: some children suffer from what is known as “Exercise induced asthma.” This is the one trigger not to avoid. Speak to your doctor about ways of preventing an asthma attack during exercise.
– Changes in the weather: humid weather or very cold weather can trigger off asthma symptoms.
– Medications: some medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen (nurofen) can trigger asthma symptoms although this is pretty rare in children. There are some complimentary medications such as Echinacea and Royal Jelly, which also affect people with asthma so it is important to speak with your doctor before starting any of these medications.
– Foods and additives: foods that cause asthma symptoms are rare but not unheard of. Generally it’s a matter of working out which foods and additives you or your child is affected by and eliminate them from your diet. Speak with your doctor about various ways of testing this.
– Chemicals and strong smells are another trigger for people with asthma so it is important to avoid them if possible.
So how is Asthma treated?
There are many medications available to treat asthma, most of which are in the form of an inhaler. Your doctor will prescribe which inhaler or inhalers they think will work the best for you or your child. Some medications don’t work instantly and may require you to try a few different ones.
Everyone who uses and inhaler should use a spacer device to help administer the medication. Even adults who have had asthma for years. Why? Well medication given without a spacer device will just go straight into the mouth and stomach and not into the lungs which is where it needs to go to work. Even the most coordinated people still don’t get an effective amount of medication. A spacer device ensures the medication is delivered into the lungs to work properly.
There are some asthma medications which don’t require a spacer but your doctor should explain how to use them when prescribing them to you or your child.
If your child is diagnosed with Asthma, then they should always be under the care of a doctor for on-going management. Speak to your doctor about treatment and what to do in an emergency. Schools, daycares and other carers should also be informed about what to do in an emergency.
“Asthma is like the sun. A little bit will not hurt too much. But like repeated sunburn damages the skin, asthma, if untreated, can cause permanent damage in the airways and lead to scarring” (Asthma Foundation of WA).