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- Asthma in kids: What every parent needs to know
Watching your child struggle to breathe due to an asthma episode can be as terrifying for you as a parent as it is for your kid. Recognizing asthma symptoms and what to do if your child suffers from this condition are the first steps in avoiding a potentially dangerous flare in the future.
This article will help you recognize signs of asthma in your child and tell you of ways to manage the condition once diagnosed. Take heart in the fact that pediatric asthma can easily be controlled if you and your doctor have developed and instituted a treatment plan.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. If unmanaged, the complications of asthma in children can be very serious and even fatal. Specific triggers can worsen the condition, so knowing what can trigger your child’s asthma will reduce severity and flares.
Pediatric asthma is the leading chronic health condition for children in the US. According to CDC data for 2019, approximately 9% of children aged 5-14 were diagnosed with asthma, with the incidence rising in the teen years.
Types of asthma
Asthma can develop due to several different causes or triggers. The types of asthma are:
- Exercise-induced asthma: Experienced during or after a period of active play or movement, such as a PE class. In addition to feeling chest discomfort and shortness of breath, a child may cough for long periods after the activity.
- Allergic asthma: Occurs when a child is sensitive to animals, dust, outside allergens, cold air, or chemicals, among others. Smoking in the house or the smell of smoke on clothing is a potent asthma trigger for children. The symptoms are very similar to exercise-induced asthma, with cough being the primary indicator.
- Atopic asthma: Caused by specific allergens that trigger an immune reaction presenting as asthma symptoms. Symptoms and treatment are the same as for any asthma, with additional consideration given to identifying the triggers or allergens that may be causing it. These triggers can be chemicals, certain foods, environmental pollutants, and animals, to name a few.
How do you know if a child has asthma?
Knowing how to recognize asthma symptoms in children is important for ensuring your child’s safety and proper treatment.
Five asthma symptoms in children are:
- Shortness of breath, especially when running
- Complaints of tightness or pain in the chest
- Inability to keep up with other children in active play or sports, fatigue, or avoidance of vigorous fun
- Frequent dry, nonproductive cough, especially after exercise or an asthma cough at night
- Allergies. You may notice a runny nose, scratchy throat, or red eyes, along with one or more of the other symptoms listed here. In addition, children with allergy-related skin conditions, such as eczema, experience a higher incidence of asthma, and these conditions are considered an asthma risk factor.
Asthma in infants and toddlers
Asthma symptoms in toddlers and babies may present differently from those in an older child or an adult. An infant with asthma is difficult to diagnose as many infant viruses and illnesses make breathing difficult, such as bronchitis and croup. Your doctor may first rule out active illness, and if breathing difficulties continue to plague your baby over time, then a diagnosis of asthma may be considered.
Toddlers are somewhat easier to diagnose as they are more active than infants, and you can see if their respiratory distress occurs with activity. In addition, a toddler may be able to verbalize some asthma symptoms. Therefore, you and your physician may get a more accurate picture and pinpoint the cause of the breathing problem quickly.
However, asthma may flare when a toddler is sick, making treatment a bit more complicated. Fortunately, asthma medications prescribed in addition to treatment for the illness will have your child back to good health in no time.
Asthma in children
As a school nurse and family nurse practitioner, I see asthma in school-age children daily in the health clinic. Kids are incredibly resilient and typically handle their asthma exceptionally well with just a few tools, getting through their asthma episodes with only an inhaler and a drink of water.
School-age children with asthma routinely have asthma attacks after recess, a PE class, or while playing sports. In addition, an illness such as bronchitis can bring on an asthma flare, requiring additional support and treatment during the recovery.
Management of asthma in children of all ages
If you suspect that your child has asthma, the steps to take are:
- Talk to your doctor if you think that your child may have asthma. Don’t postpone this vital conversation as delayed diagnosis and management could lead to a severe episode.
- Carefully watch your child at play for any of the above indicators and allergy-related triggers.
- If your kid is in preschool or elementary school, ask their classroom or PE teacher or school nurse if they have noticed any asthma symptoms or inability to keep up with the other children while playing.
- Talk to your child about what they’re experiencing to eliminate any fears they may have about this new and possibly frightening condition. Stress and anxiety can increase asthma episodes, so reassuring your child that they will be okay is essential during a flare.
How to treat asthma in children naturally
It’s wise to always consult your child’s physician regarding serious medical conditions such as asthma. There are also natural ways to help alleviate asthma symptoms.
Some natural approaches to managing asthma are:
- Keeping your child calm during an asthma episode goes a long way to preventing an escalation of the situation due to panic. Crowding around your child may intensify their anxiety. One adult sitting quietly with them and calmly assisting is helpful.
- Have your child sit down (not lie down as a flat position compresses the lungs), rest, and take a cold drink of water. Relax in an air-conditioned environment if possible or in the shade if no air conditioning is available.
- Have your child breathe in slowly through their nose and out through their mouth. Rapid, shallow breathing may worsen the condition.
- Avoid asthma triggers that cause respiratory difficulty. Don’t smoke around your child, in the house, or in the car.
- Have your child maintain a healthy weight. Obese children tend to struggle more with asthma than children with an average BMI.
- Encourage your kid to stay active. Exercise is actually healthy for children whose asthma is well managed.
Although childhood asthma is common, it can be shocking and upsetting for a parent if your child has been diagnosed with this condition. Asthma is a very treatable disease and can be controlled, allowing children to live a full life and participate in sports and all activities.
Kids with asthma were once sidelined for fear of aggravating their condition. Nowadays, your doctor can prescribe a simple treatment plan that will prevent an asthma event from occurring. If your child has breakthrough shortness of breath, there are rescue inhalers to keep on hand that eliminate any symptoms quickly. By following the prescribed treatment and being prepared to handle an asthma episode, you will help your child be active again and have all kinds of fun.