Asthma In Children: 9 Symptoms And 4 Treatment Options

Asthma In Children

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Breathing is a natural process. Perhaps that is why we don’t pay a lot of attention to it.

That is until we have trouble breathing. One of the many reasons people have difficulty breathing is asthma, a medical condition common to adults and children alike. A severe illness that can be managed with the regular use of inhalers and nebulizers, asthma can be deadly if the person doesn’t get medical attention in time. That said, the condition need not be a burden for your child or you.

MomJunction tells you about asthma in children, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. In the end, we also give you tips to care for a child with asthma.

Asthma In Children: Is It Just Troubled Breathing?

Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs that causes inflammation and blockage of the airways. The condition causes recurring bouts of shortness of breath, chest congestion, wheezing, and coughing. The swelling and narrowing of the airways are usually triggered by stimuli such as an allergen, cold weather, and strenuous physical activity (1).

People with asthma have inflamed airways. The sensitive airway reacts to any stimuli inhaled by the child and results in tightening of the muscles around the tubes, making it difficult for the air to pass through. The severe the swelling, the narrower the airway.

Mild symptoms tend to go away on their own when the stimuli are removed from the environment. But, when the symptoms become severe and intense, the child can get an asthma attack, also known as asthma exacerbation or flare-ups. Often, these attacks can be controlled using inhalers or nebulizers.

But how do you identify an asthma attack in children?

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Symptoms Of Asthma In Children

Shortness of breath does not necessarily mean asthma. The condition is characterized by several other signs and symptoms that you should watch out for (2):

  • A chronic cough – in some cases, it is the only symptom
  • Coughing spells often triggered by excessive laughing, crying, during play, or at night, especially during winters.
  • Rapid, but intermittent, breathing
  • Lack of energy, feeling of weakness or tiredness
  • Wheezing or a whistling sound when breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • A ‘tight’ feeling in the chest
  • Pain in the chest
  • Retractions in the chest or see-saw motions of the chest caused due to labored breathing

[ Read: Breathing Problems In Children ]

While these symptoms do indicate asthma, they may also be signs of other respiratory diseases. The doctor will check the child’s symptoms, medical history, family medical history, and also examine the child physically to determine if it is asthma or any other problem. Also, the following factors increase the risk.

  • The child has nasal allergies or skin rashes
  • Low birth weight
  • Frequent colds (respiratory infections)
  • History of asthma or allergies in the family
  • Exposure to dust, cigarette smoke, and air pollution
  • Unhealthy living environment

Sometimes, the asthma symptoms also vary based on what has triggered the condition. Read on to know what causes asthma and about the stimuli that can trigger an asthmatic attack.

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Causes Of Asthma In Children

More than 235 million people around the world suffer from asthma. Of them, many are children. In the US alone, around 6.2 million children have asthma (3). According to studies, young children with respiratory infections and wheezing are more likely to develop chronic asthma (4).

Other things that can trigger asthma symptoms or worsen them include:

  • Cold, flu, and other respiratory infections
  • Allergens such as pollen, cold weather, dust, pet hair
  • Physical activity or exercise
  • Exposure to smoke from cigarette or other airborne elements that can irritate the airways
  • Intense emotional reactions such as excessive crying and laughing
  • Sudden or extreme changes in weather
  • Gastrointestinal reflux

Sometimes, these symptoms can be mild and may be mistaken for symptoms of cold or physical exertion. Other times they may become severe and need immediate medical attention.

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So, when to call a doctor?

Severe symptoms mentioned here could indicate an asthma emergency (5). If you notice any of these signs in your child, take him or her to a doctor immediately.

  • Gasping for air
  • Unable to speak due to breathing difficulty
  • Breathing hard – the abdomen gets sucked under the ribs

It is an emergency when these symptoms worsen quickly, and the corticosteroid inhaler is providing little or no relief to the child. Call an ambulance or take your child to the ER immediately. In the meantime, you can do the following asthma emergency first aid to provide relief for the child (6).

  1. Make the child sit upright and loosen any tight clothing to enable the child to breathe easily.
  1. Stay calm and reassure the child to stay calm. Panicking only worsens the symptoms.
  1. Give six puffs of a corticosteroid inhaler immediately. Giving one puff a time, ask the child to take a deep breath to inhale the medicine after each puff.
  1. Wait for six minutes. If there is no improvement, repeat step 3 and wait until the ambulance arrives.

[ Read: Wheezing In Children ]

The treatment that the child receives at the hospital will depend on the diagnosis.

Diagnosing Asthma In Children

The doctor may ask questions that give him an insight into the child’s and the family’s medical history, living conditions, and lifestyle for a thorough diagnosis. Other tests including the following may also be necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

  • Blood test to check for infections
  • Chest X-ray to check for any congestion in the lungs
  • Allergy test to check if the symptoms are triggered due to allergen-exposure

The doctor will recommend the appropriate course of treatment once they identify the cause and the triggers.

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Treatment For Asthma In Children

Asthma has no cure. But it can be managed to make life comfortable for the child. The treatment varies from one person to another, based on how frequent and severe the symptoms are. Remember that the treatments available for asthma in children aim at controlling the symptoms, minimizing the risk of future asthmatic attacks, maintaining healthy lung functioning, and enabling the child to lead as normal a life as possible.

[ Read: Chest Infection In Children ]

Asthma treatment for children also aims at using medications with fewer side-effects.

Your doctor can recommend the following treatment options (5):

  • Inhaled steroids are the most effective anti-inflammatory agents to control the symptoms of asthma. Inhalers fitted with corticosteroid medication such as budesonide, mometasone, ciclesonide, and fluticasone are the first-line of treatment for asthma in children and adults.
  • The doctor may recommend fast-acting bronchodilators, such as Albuterol, ProAir, Xopenex, and Ventolin for giving the child a quick relief in case of an attack. However, these medicines have a short-term effect and are usually used for exercise-induced attacks (6).
  • Long-acting bronchodilators are sometimes added to corticosteroid inhalers. These combination inhalers are used for long-term relief from the symptoms.
  • Leukotriene modifiers such as zileuton, montelukast, and zafirlukast can be used along with the inhalers (7).

Although rare, daily medications such as theophylline may be recommended. Regular use of inhalers helps keep the condition under check and prevents severe asthma attacks that can make the child highly uncomfortable. Do remember, if proper care is not taken, an asthmatic child will be at a risk of asthma exacerbation, which can be fatal (8).

[ Read: Breathing Exercises For Kids ]

On the bright side, fatal asthma attacks are preventable. Keep reading to know about how to care for a child who has asthma.

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Home Care Tips For Children With Asthma

Talk to the healthcare provider to know what you should do and not do to keep your child’s asthma attacks at bay. The doctor may have some specific pointers based on how severe or mild the child’s condition is.

Here are some tips you could keep in mind when caring for a child with asthma.

  • Ensure that your child always carries his inhaler with him. Check if the inhaler is full and is being used well within the expiry date.
  • Administer the medications as prescribed by the doctor.
  • Let the child’s caregiver at school and home also know about asthma. Share the asthma treatment plan with each of the child’s caregivers.
  • Have helpers at home and school to take care for your child when he has a bout of asthma.
  • The child can go to school as anyone else as long as the symptoms are latent. But in case of unmanageable asthma attacks, keep the child at home, under the care of a guardian.
  • Find out what triggers the child’s asthma and what makes the attacks worse. Keep allergens and other triggers away from the child.
  • Observe for early warning signs of an asthma attack, so that you are prepared and know what to do if there’s an asthma exacerbation. Similarly, look for any delayed warning signs that might indicate an asthma attack.

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Monitor the symptoms of asthma in your child and maintain a diary. This lets you keep track of the child’s condition – if the symptoms are disappearing or becoming severe.

[ Read: Are Nasal Sprays Safe For Kids ]

For asthma, management is as important as the treatment. So make sure that you follow the home care tips along with the prescribed treatment to keep the symptoms of asthma under control. With proper care, children can lead a normal life, and not miss out on the good things in life.

Do you have any tips on childhood asthma management? Share them in our comments section.

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