Does my child have asthma?

Asthma is a distressing condition and the most common chronic lung disease in childhood.

Asthma affects one in ten children at some time in childhood.  Most children who develop asthma have experienced their first attack by the age of 4 or 5 years.  It is vital to treat asthma as it may result in slowing down a child’s growth.

The causes of asthma are unclear and there is often a family history of asthma and other allergic disorders. Other possible factors are the increase in pollution and low birth weight.  Smoking is a proven and very important factor, particularly if you smoke during pregnancy, and you and your partner smokes during your child’s early years.   Attacks may be triggered by infection with a virus or by allergens such as house-dust mites.  Other triggers are anxiety, over-excitement and vigorous exercise particularly in cold air.

The symptoms of asthma are caused by the narrowing of the airways in the lungs as a result of inflammation and the swelling of the walls, contraction of the muscles within the walls and an increase in mucus secretion.

How do I know my child has asthma?

The first possible signs of asthma in young children are often a recurring cough often triggered by cold air or after exercise.  Other signs may include only coughing at night while symptoms may include wheezing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and a bluish tinge round the lips during a severe attack.

To determine the severity of the disease, a doctor will use a peak-flow meter.  This meter measures how well the lungs are working.  X-rays may also be carried out to access if there is any associated chest infection.  The peak-flow meter can only be used with children over five therefore making it difficult to spot asthma in very young children.

Drugs can be given in different ways depending on age and the child’s ability to coordinate his breathing using an inhaler. As a general guideline, up to 2 years, a nebulizer or spacer with a face mask; 2 to 4 years, aerosol puffer with spacer; 5 to 8 years, powder inhaler.

Unfortunately there is not prevention against asthma attacks but one may be able to reduce their severity.  If the allergen which triggers asthma is known, encourage your child to stay clear of them.  In older children, use a bronchodilator half an hour before exercising.  Be supportive to your child when they are feeling anxious and help them to avoid stressful situations.

Many children with asthma may get much better as their lungs grow.  However if your child still suffers by the age of 14 years, there is a strong chance that their asthma will persist into adulthood.

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