Asthma is a long-term inflammatory disease of the airways that causes episodes of reversible airway constriction and sensitivity that make breathing difficult and can cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest.
Childhood Asthma is common, with 1 in 4 children under 5 and 1 in 7 adolescents suffering from the condition. Childhood Asthma can be a serious condition which is frightening for parents to deal with, but it is important to remember that Childhood Asthma can be well controlled if the condition is managed appropriately.Some children 'grow out' of asthma as they become older. Clinical studies indicate that the persistence of Childhood Asthma into adult life is more likely in cases where Asthma is diagnosed at a very young age; the symptoms are more severe and accompanied by atopy (other allergic reactions such as eczema); there is consistent exposure to cigarette smoke; and in cases where there is a high level of exposure to allergens.
Children with Asthma have sensitive airways that can become very narrow, making breathing very difficult. An Asthma attack in childhood is usually triggered by a viral infection of the lungs (e.g. cold or flu). Other factors which may trigger Childhood Asthma attacks include exercise, smoking or passive smoking (which irritates the airways), chemical fumes from household products such as paints and sprays, changes in air temperature and air-borne factors which a child may be allergic to such as pollens, moulds, dust mites and pet hair. Psychological stress can also cause Asthma attacks in young children, particularly those of primary-school age. Food allergies are less common triggers of Childhood Asthma attacks. Exercise and emotion (e.g. laughing or crying) may also trigger a Childhood Asthma attack.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The symptoms of Childhood Asthma typically include wheezing and coughing, which may occur more frequently at a particular time of the day such as during the night, early in the morning, or during or after exercise. There are a number of alternative causes for these symptoms, so just because a child is wheezing, he/she does not necessarily have Asthma. In fact, it can be difficult to diagnose Asthma in children because they have naturally narrower airways and are prone to colds and other respiratory infections that can cause wheezing and coughing.
Always consult your Doctor for the diagnosis and management of Childhood Asthma. The aim of Childhood Asthma management is to reduce the symptoms of the condition and allow the child to lead a full and active life. Your Doctor will discuss the importance of your child's Asthma triggers and will work with you to develop a plan to minimise or avoid these triggers to decrease the likelihood of a Childhood Asthma attack.
Your Doctor may also prescribe Asthma medications that will help prevent Asthma attacks occurring (commonly called 'Preventers') and medications that will help to control Asthma attacks that have already begun (these are called 'Relievers'). Make sure your child is taught how to properly use inhalers or puffers. Up to 30% of patients (especially children) cannot use a metered dose inhaler properly despite instruction. A device called a spacer is recommended to ensure adequate inhalation. Regular visits to the Doctor are important to monitor Childhood Asthma. For more information, see the Asthma - Medications and Asthma Management topics on the Healthpoint.
Children with Childhood Asthma can become seriously ill very quickly. A child suffering an Asthma attack may not necessarily be wheezy, but may be pale, quiet and breathing rapidly and shallowly. Act quickly when your child suffers an Asthma attack that has signs of being 'out of control' (e.g. difficulty with breathing, talking and performing other tasks as well as restlessness). If these symptoms are not being improved by 'reliever' medications, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION URGENTLY.
Ask your Pharmacist for advice. 1) Make sure your child receives a nutritious, well-balanced diet that includes dairy products unless these have been pinpointed as a specific Asthma trigger for your child. 2) If your Doctor has suggested a nebuliser ask your Pharmacist how to use it correctly. 3) Ask your Pharmacist about a humidifier and how to use it correctly. 4) Keep your child away from known Asthma triggers. 5) Make sure your child takes prescribed medications regularly and does not miss a dose. Educate your child in the correct use of a puffer and spacer. 6) Consider supplements if the diet is inadequate.
- Food is not a common trigger for Childhood Asthma, with less than 5% of Asthma sufferers being affected by the ingredients in certain foods and drinks. - Childhood Asthma sufferers should eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet that incorporates a wide variety of foods. - Childhood Asthma sufferers with known food 'triggers' should avoid these foods. - There is no evidence that dairy foods can trigger or worsen Childhood Asthma attacks unless patients have specific allergies to dairy foods. Dairy foods are an important source of many essential nutrients and should not be avoided unless there are specific medical reasons for doing so. - Nutritional factors during childhood development, such as low intake of milk, vegetables, fibre, vitamin E and certain minerals, may contribute to the development of Asthma in late childhood.
ORGANISATIONS and SUPPORT GROUPSSee the Asthma Australia topic on the Healthpoint.