Asthma is a condition in which the small tubes that carry air in the lungs are over-sensitive to certain allergic substances (allergens) and react very strongly to them by contracting and shrinking in diameter, thus obstructing the passage of air and making it difficult to breath.
This can happen repeatedly whenever the airways are exposed to certain allergens.
The only symptom of asthma in small children may be cough, as they may not be able to express their problems.
Cough is usually dry, repetitive, tiring for the child and parents, and it typically worsens during late night and early morning.
If the attack is severe, the child may breathe fast and sometimes a wheezing sound may be heard. Due to breathing difficulty, small children may continuously cry and refuse to eat normally.
What causes asthma in children?
As mentioned earlier, asthma is triggered by allergens. The allergens can be pollens, dust, fumes, dust from pets, cockroaches, fungus, perfumes, few medications, passive smoking, air pollution, etc.
Respiratory viral infection can also trigger asthma. Some children develop asthma with exercise.
It is difficult to identify the exact cause in a given child. There are some skin tests to identify as to what the child is allergic to, but it is not done routinely.
Also Read: How To Diagnose Asthma In Children
Is it a hereditary disease?
Asthma develops due to genetic and environmental causes. The chances are higher for a child to develop Asthma, if there is someone in the close family circle who is also suffering from Asthma or any other allergic disease of the skin or nose.
But, it doesn't mean that every child born to asthmatic parents will develop asthma. There is no single test that can predict whether a child will develop the disease or not.
Are there any foods and activities that should be restricted?
There is no need to place restrictions on your child. He/she can lead a normal life. Only the junk foods containing artificial preservatives may have to be restricted.
There is no restriction on activities also. Children can play normally and participate in all activities like running, cycling, swimming, etc, and mingle with other kids.
If your child has exercise-induced asthma, then some medications may be given before he/she participates in exercises.
Will the child be asthmatic for life?
Most of the children who have milder episodes of asthma in early childhood are usually free from this disease by late childhood.
In children with a more severe disease and other associated allergies, the disease may continue into adulthood as well. But, even then, the disease can be well controlled and even these individuals can lead a near-normal life.
What are the treatment options for asthma in children? Can it be cured completely?
Asthma cannot be cured completely, but controlled. Which means the number and severity of the attacks can be reduced.
There are two categories of medications for the treatment. They are relievers and preventers.
Relievers are medications that help in relaxing the air tubes, so that wheezing decreases and breathing becomes easier. The effects are short-term lasting for a few hours and hence these patients need to be given attention round the clock.
Relievers do not have effect on long-term control of attacks.
Preventers, on the other hand, do not have any short-term effects. Their role is to reduce the irritability of the airways, so that they do not over-react to the allergens.
Their role is to reduce the duration of an attack and to prevent future attacks. Steroids belong to this class of medication.
MBBS,Bangalore Medical College, Bangalore, Diploma in Child Health (DCH), MGM Medical College, Indor
He practices as a Consultant Paediatrician at the Sagar Hospitals, Bangalore.