What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition in which the small airways in the lungs; narrow to such a point that normal breathing becomes difficult. This constriction or narrowing stops when treatment is given and the airways go back to their normal size when the asthma attack is over. It is the sound of the air squeezing through the narrowed tubes that makes the wheezing sound commonly associated with asthma.
What makes the airways narrow?
In the first, the walls of the airways, which are made from muscles, contract and restrict the available space for the air to flow through.
Secondly, the lining of the airways becomes inflamed, further reducing the space within the airways.
Thirdly, the mucus secretions that are always present in the lungs increase in volume during some attacks, and the sufferer cannot cough them away. If a child is suffering from a cold or other respiratory infection, this can often trigger an attack.
Why are children more affected than adults?
Children’s lungs are smaller and the airways are narrower than those of an adult, making the effect of the three actions more pronounced.
What causes an asthma attack?
In the normal course of events, asthma is a chronic (ongoing) though “invisible” condition: An asthmatic child will be equally able to enjoy life and take part in activities alongside her non-asthmatic friends, until something “triggers” her asthma symptoms.
There are many asthma triggers. Some individuals are affected by just a few; others by a wide range. The most common include those that are inhaled during normal breathing, such as pollen, dust, pollution, perfumes, extremely cold air, and cigarette smoke. In some cases, certain foods can provoke an allergic reaction. Attacks can be caused by emotions: some asthmatics react to stress or fears in themselves or those close to them, and some will even suffer an onset of wheezing from a prolonged bout of laughter. In some cases, an attack follows an infection and inflammation of the lungs. Exercise is another common trigger.
What happens in an attack?
What actually happens in an asthma attack varies quite a lot according to each individual and the severity and frequency of the attacks they normally suffer, but the common feature is an inability to breathe normally.
How does an attack begin?
An attack may begin gradually or abruptly. The first signs are often shortness of breath and the child may breathe faster and with more effort in an attempt to get more air into his lungs. He may also wheeze and cough, show sign of anxiety, and pant as he talks. Breathing out is more difficult than breathing in, so he may hunch forward to make breathing easier and you will probably hear the characteristic wheezing noise as he breathes out. With children, especially very young children, the onset of an asthma attack can sometimes be difficult to recognize.
What causes a child’s first attack?
A first attack may come on without obvious cause, or it may be preceded by a cold or chest infection that has led to excess mucus accumulating in the airways.
What are the early warning signs?
If your child has already been diagnosed as asthmatic you may notice that an attack nearly always begins in the same way. Many parents say that coughing during the night is the first sign of an impending asthma attack- the cough will not be relieved by a drink of water, although it may be eased temporarily by propping the child up in bed with more pillows.
Will my child wheeze?
Wheezing indicates that the air is not flowing easily through your child’s airways so it is quite usual for him to wheeze at the beginning of an attack. It may sound alarming, but wheezing does not necessarily mean that the attack is already at a serious stage.
Exercise and asthma attacks:
It is not uncommon for children to have an asthma attack that is brought on by exercise. This naturally causes a dilemma for parents who would not wish to provoke unnecessary attacks yet who want their child to be fit and to gain satisfaction and fun from getting exercise.
Who is affected?
If your child is asthmatic she has about an 80 percent chance of her condition being affected by the physical demands of exercise. Nevertheless, exercise is definitely not out of the question. You will be able to tell her that quite a number of Olympic-standard athletes and professional sportspeople are asthmatics who have learned to control their condition.
How to prevent the attack precipitated after exercise?
At school your child will know when she will be getting exercise and should be able to time her use of medication so that it is most effective. If, for some reason, she forgets and experiences tightness in the chest and wheezing she should stop exercise immediately, take her medication, and rest quietly until all her symptoms have disappeared before she starts to exercise again.
If your child finds that on form of exercise, for example running, baseball, or field hockey, always brings on an asthma attack, encourage her to take up another activity, such as swimming or yoga, which helps with breathing control.
What are the danger signs?
A key sign is that her normal medication doesn’t seem to be working as well as usual. Other signs that her asthma may be getting out of control include having to take her reliever medication more frequently, wheezing constantly, being short of breath and unable to complete her sentences, coughing persistently, breathing at an increased rate, feeling tired, and looking very pale. Severe head cold or other viral infections of the upper respiratory tract are common triggers.
How can I help my child?
If your child is wheezing, encourage her to breathe deeply and slowly, although not so deeply that it will bring on a fit of coughing. Try to remain calm and be as reassuring as possible.
Acute attacks frequently happen at night. Your child will find it easier to breathe if she is sitting up, with you close by to hold her hand or put your arm around her. This will help to calm her while she tries to get her breathing under control.
What else can I do?
You should try to prevent her from becoming dehydrated. Encourage her to sip small amounts at frequent intervals. Plain water is best, although juice is popular with some children at this time. Provide a straw If that makes it easier for her to drink. She might like to suck a piece of ice.
Don’t worry if she doesn’t feel like eating-you can offer food once the attack has passed. If she has swallowed a lot of mucus or is coughing, she may vomit, which may make her feel better.
How do I prevent an attack of asthma?
- Removing the common triggers of asthma
- Using the prescribed medicines.
- Monitoring and strict follow ups.
Points to remember:
- Important points to share with your child: how to take control of the condition, prevent attacks, seek help at school and elsewhere, use medication correctly, recognize when medical help is needed and take responsibility. They are the key to your asthmatic child enjoying good health.
- Help your child to take control: Only by knowing how to control his condition will your child be able to stop it controlling him. You have to be confident about how the medication he has been prescribed works, and how it needs to be taken to be most effective, so that you can pass this information on. A healthy diet and lifestyle, while not directly affecting your child’s asthma, will ensure that he is fit and can fight infection.
- Talk to your child to discover when he feels vulnerable because of asthma. You can then work with him to find ways that situations can be improved, and how to help him to remember to take his medication at the correct times. It is also important that he knows to stop physical play and exercise when and if he needs to.
- Concentrate on prevention: As you help your child to understand his asthma you will also be showing him how to prevent attacks. Try to get him to acknowledge what triggers an attack and what to do about it.
- Your child may be unwilling for you to include his school in any plan of prevention. While you can sympathize with his dread of being singled out, be honest and say that you have to inform the school of his condition and explain how they can help.
- Know when to tell someone: Teaching your child to tell somebody if he feels he is losing control over his asthma can be quite difficult. You must help him overcome any worries he may have about communicating his needs to an adult.
- Use medication correctly: Medication only works if taken at the right times and in the right amounts. Inhalers that alleviate asthmatic symptoms also need to be used properly. Your child should know why they are important and he needs to understand that he should turn to them as his first, rather than a last, resort. It is also important not to overuse or abuse relievers and to watch his responses carefully.
- Know when to get medical help: However efficiently you both manage to control your child’s asthma there will probably still be times when he will need medical attention. While it is important not to show fear to your child, who may become worse if you do, or to overreact to his symptoms, it is essential to heed warning signs and to act promptly.