Children and adults can both suffer from asthma - but children face unique challenges when living with this health issue. About 1 in 10 children live with asthma, and it’s one of the most common reasons why children are absent from school, go to emergency rooms, or are admitted to hospitals. In fact, research has found that children ages 1 to 3 years account for as high as one-fifth of emergency room visits caused by complications from asthma. That’s the largest proportion of visits among asthma patients under age 21.
While the root cause of asthma is not fully known, doctors know that asthma is a disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the airways. This inflammation causes narrowing of the airways and increased sensitivity to various triggers. These triggers can include everything from viral sources (i.e. the common cold) to air pollutants (i.e. tobacco smoke) to common allergens (i.e. pollen), amongst others.
While asthma is often associated with the spring allergy season, it can affect patients in any season. It is important for parents to monitor for signs of distress year round, and to seek help when dealing with a potential or known asthma diagnosis. Additionally, regular visits with your doctor (to anticipate potential triggers and discuss your child’s progress) is a necessity that allows doctors and families to create an asthma action plan - a specific treatment plan for a child that can address and sometimes prevent an asthma attack.
Monitoring for Asthma: Can You Identify Common Asthma Symptoms?
Asthma symptoms vary from child to child. Additionally, they may get worse or better over time. It is also possible for children to experience one or a combination of several symptoms.
Some common signs that your child may have asthma include:
- Frequent, intermittent coughing
- A whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Night time cough
- Exercise intolerance
- Prolonged recovery from respiratory infections
Diagnosing Asthma: When Should My Child See A Doctor?
If you recognize the symptoms listed above, bringing your child to your regular pediatrician is a great start. In the majority of cases, children do not need to see a specialist to get their asthma diagnosed and well managed. A symptom diary with dates, symptoms, and duration of illnesses can often be helpful. Inquiring about family history can also be helpful information, as we know there is a strong hereditary component to asthma. Early treatment will not only help control day-to-day asthma symptoms, but also may prevent more serious asthma attacks.
Treating Asthma: What Kind Of Care Will My Child Need If They Have Asthma?
Once a diagnosis is made, you will work with your pediatrician to develop a personalized asthma action plan. Plans include information such as step-by-step directions on what medicines to take and when; how to avoid triggers; what to do between flare-ups; and how to recognize and manage them if they happen. By following this plan, families will learn how to care for their child and when to call the doctor for help.
Asthma attacks can be prevented if patients are taught to avoid their asthma triggers, use long-term daily control medicines, and use their quick-relief medications in the event of an asthma attack. Additionally, it is important to ensure they get an annual flu shot as they are at higher risk for developing serious illness if they catch the flu.
Managing Asthma: How Can Parents Encourage Children to Take Medication?
Our final tips for families involve encouraging children to take their medications on a regular basis. Children can be stubborn and may want to avoid taking any medicine. However, there are things parents can do to encourage them to do so:
- Mix medication with a small amount of food that your child loves, such as juice, applesauce, chocolate, or other flavorful foods.
- Offer a small reward such as a sticker or an extra book at bedtime.
- Model the use of an inhaler and pretend you will get the medicine, too.
- Let your child pretend to administer the medication to their favorite stuffed toy.
- Give medication as part of the child’s regular routine (ex. making it a part of their routine to getting ready in the morning or for bed).
Asthma & Your Family: What’s Next?
Having a child with asthma can seem daunting, but while the initial adjustment period has many things to learn, asthma care will quickly become a regular part of a family’s routine. Most importantly, proper asthma care ensures that your child will grow up healthy, energetic, and strong!
At Capital Area Pediatrics, we can help make and/or confirm the diagnosis of asthma, as well as help to create a personalized action plan and instruct children and families on the proper way to administer medications. To schedule an appointment with a pediatrician, find your nearest location and contact us today!