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Childhood Asthma, Its Symptoms, Causes, Prevention & Treatment

World Asthma Day is observed every year on the first Tuesday of May. World Asthma Day 2020 falls on 5 May. The annual observance is organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), with the aim of raising awareness, care and support for the people affected by the respiratory disease [1].

World Asthma Day was initiated in 1998 and this year (2020), the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) has decided the World Asthma Day will be May 5 every year [2]. World Asthma Day 2020 theme is 'Enough Asthma Deaths.'

18 Effective Home Remedies For Asthma

On this World Asthma Day, we will look into the topic of childhood asthma or asthma in children. In general, asthma is a chronic disease which causes inflammation and narrowing of airways in the lungs. It causes wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing [3].

During an asthma attack, your airway muscles constrict and mucous membranes produce excess mucus, blocking your breathing. Allergens such as dust, spores, animal hairs, cold air, infection and even stress can trigger asthma [4].

Pollen Exposure During Pregnancy May Increase The Risk Of Paediatric Asthma

There are many different types of asthma, brought on by different triggers. Some of the most common types of asthma are adult-onset asthma, allergic asthma, asthma-COPD overlap, nonallergic asthma, occupational asthma and childhood asthma [5].


What Is Childhood Asthma?

Childhood asthma also termed as pediatric asthma, is the same as that of asthma reported in adults. However, childhood asthma has different symptoms in comparison to other types of asthma. When a child has asthma, the lungs and airways become easily inflamed when exposed to triggers such as inhaling pollen or catching a cold or other respiratory infection [6].

The symptoms of this respiratory problem can make it difficult for your child to do everyday activities such as going to school, playing and even sleeping. There is no cure for asthma in children but there are ways through which you can prevent the triggers and hence, limit the damage to the child's growing lungs [7].


What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Childhood Asthma?

The symptoms of childhood asthma can vary from one child to another and a child can have different symptoms from one episode to the next. The most common symptoms of childhood asthma are as follows [8]:

  • A whistling or wheezing sound when breathing out
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest congestion or tightness
  • Frequent coughing, especially during play or exercise
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble sleeping because of coughing or breathing problems
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tight neck and chest muscles
  • In infants, trouble eating or grunting while eating
  • Severe symptoms of childhood asthma that requires immediate medical attention are as follows [9]:

    • Pulling in of chest and sides as they breathe
    • Excessive sweating
    • Stopping in the middle of a sentence to catch a breath
    • A belly that sinks in under their ribs when they try to get air
    • Widened nostrils
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Chest pain

What Are The Causes Of Childhood Asthma?

Health experts assert that the causes of childhood asthma are not fully understood. Some of the possible causes of pediatric asthma are as follows [10]:

  • Exposure to environmental pollutants, such as cigarette smoke or other air pollution
  • Inherited tendency to develop allergies
  • Parents with asthma
  • Airway infections at a very young age

What Are The Triggers Of Childhood Asthma?

The triggers vary from child to child and in some cases, the reaction trigger can be delayed, making it more difficult to identify it. Some of the common triggers of childhood asthma are as follows [11]:

  • Allergens like cockroaches, dust mites, mould, pet dander, and pollen
  • Irritants like air pollution, chemicals, cold air, odours, or smoke
  • Airway infections like colds, pneumonia, and sinus infections
  • Stress
  • Physical activity
  • In some children, asthma symptoms occur with no apparent triggers.


What Are The Risk Factors For Childhood Asthma?

Factors that can increase your child's likelihood of developing asthma are as follows [12]:

  • Previous allergic reactions, including skin reactions, food allergies or hay fever
  • Respiratory conditions, such as a chronic runny or stuffy nose (rhinitis), inflamed sinuses (sinusitis) or pneumonia
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke, including before birth
  • Obesity
  • A family history of asthma or allergies
  • Living in an area with high pollution
  • Heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD)
  • Sex (male)
  • Ethnicity [13]

What Are The Complications Of Childhood Asthma?

Childhood asthma can cause a number of complications and they are as follows [14]:

  • Severe asthma attacks that require emergency treatment or hospital care
  • Getting behind in school
  • Poor sleep and fatigue
  • Permanent damage in lung function
  • Symptoms that interfere with normal physical activities

How Is Childhood Asthma Diagnosed?

Asthma, in general, can be difficult to diagnose because a number of childhood conditions can have symptoms similar to those caused by asthma [15]. The doctor will analyse the symptoms and will determine whether your child's symptoms are caused by asthma, a condition other than asthma, or both asthma and another condition.

The following conditions can cause asthma-like symptoms in children [16]:

  • Airway abnormalities
  • Sinusitis
  • Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Dysfunctional breathing
  • Rhinitis
  • Respiratory tract infections such as bronchiolitis and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • In order to diagnose the condition, the doctor may prescribe the following tests [17]:

    • Lung function tests
    • Exhaled nitric oxide test help determine whether steroid medications might be helpful for your child's asthma
    • Allergy skin testing, where the skin is pricked with extracts of common allergy-causing substances and observed for signs of an allergic reaction

What Are The Treatments For Childhood Asthma?

The first form of treatment for childhood asthma depends on the severity of your child's asthma and the goal of asthma treatment is to keep symptoms under control. Treating asthma involves both preventing symptoms and treating an asthma attack in progress [18].

For children younger than age 3 who have mild symptoms of asthma, the doctor might use a wait-and-see approach because the long-term effects of asthma medication on infants and young children are not clear [19].

Then, once the cause and triggers are understood, long-term medications will be prescribed to reduce the inflammation in your child's airways that leads to symptoms and they are as follows [20]:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids
  • Combination inhalers
  • Leukotriene modifiers
  • Immunomodulatory agents
  • Oral and intravenous corticosteroids
  • Short-acting beta-agonists
  • Note: Corticosteroids are a class of drug that lowers inflammation in the body.


Can Childhood Asthma Be Prevented?

Careful planning and avoiding asthma triggers can help prevent asthma attacks. Consider the following preventive measures [21]:

  • Maintain low humidity at home
  • Keep indoor air clean
  • Use air conditioner as it helps reduce the amount of airborne pollen from trees, grasses and weeds that finds its way indoors
  • Clean the house regularly
  • Reduce your child's exposure to cold air
  • Help your child maintain a healthy weight
  • Don't smoke around your child
  • Encourage your child to be active as regular activity can help the lungs to work more efficiently

On A Final Note…

It can be stressful to help your child manage asthma but you need to be the support system for your child and focus attention on what your child can do, not on limitations. Make treatment a regular part of life and get help, when necessary.