What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways, characterized by recurrent, reversible, airway obstruction. Airway inflammation leads to airway hyperreactivity, which causes the airways to narrow in response to various stimuli, including allergens, exercise, and cold air.
Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Asthma accounts for more school absences and more hospitalizations than any other chronic condition.
What are causes of Asthma?
Many things can cause asthma, including
- Allergens- mold, pollen, animals
- Irritants- cigarette smoke, air pollution
- Weather- cold air, changes in weather
- Infections- flu, common cold
What are the signs and symptoms of asthma in children?
The most common symptoms of childhood asthma are coughing and wheezing.
- Coughing is typically non-productive and can frequently be the only symptom.
- Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound produced by turbulent airflow through narrowed airways.
Other common symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness
- Poor exercise endurance
Symptoms are often worse with exertion or during the night, night coughs are also very common. Symptoms can also have a seasonal variation, which can be due to environmental allergies.
The physical exam in asthma is often completely normal. Occasionally, wheezing is present. In an asthma exacerbation, the respiratory rate increases, the heart rate increases, and children can look as if they are having difficulty in breathing. They may require accessory muscles to breathe.
How is asthma in children diagnosed?
The diagnosis of asthma in children is often a purely clinical diagnosis. A typical history is a child with a family history of asthma and allergies who experiences coughing and difficulty breathing when playing with friends and/or who experiences frequent bouts of bronchitis or prolonged respiratory infections. Improvement with a trial of asthma medications essentially confirms the diagnosis of asthma.
Spirometry is a breathing test to measure lung function for children around 5 years of age. The vast majority of younger children are diagnosed with asthma based on statistics.
What is the prognosis for asthma in children?
The prognosis is more in young children who wheeze with viral respiratory infections and who have no symptoms in between these episodes. Children with recurrent symptoms tend to have ongoing asthma later in life.
Can asthma in children be prevented?
While there is no certain way to prevent asthma, experts continue to look at things that may reduce a child’s chance of getting asthma.
- Controlling tobacco smoke is important because it is a major cause of asthma symptoms in children and adults. If your child has asthma, try to avoid being around others who are smoking. And ask people not to smoke in your house.
- Pregnant women who smoke cigarettes during pregnancy increase the risk for wheezing in their newborn babies.
- Avoid exposure to dust, pollens, allergic foods and keeping pet animals/ birds at home.
- Avoid sudden change in temperatures/ weathers.
- Avoid cleaning dust and carpets at home when your child is around.
- Consider keeping your child inside when air pollution levels are high.
- Other irritants in the air (such as fumes from gas, oil, or kerosene, or wood-burning stoves) can sometimes irritate the bronchial tubes. Avoiding these may reduce asthma symptoms.
Dr. Sameer (Pediatrician)
Aster Clinic, Bahrain