Kids & Asthma: What You Should Know

While not curable, asthma can be carefully managed to let children breathe easier.
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Spring flowers can take your breath away. And not just because their beauty is such a welcome break from winter landscapes. For children with asthma, the high pollen counts that come with spring can spell breathing trouble.

During an asthma attack, the airways swell, produce excess mucus and narrow, limiting the amount of air that gets into the lungs. Asthma is a chronic condition, and attacks can vary from mild to severe. Mild asthma is treated as needed by the individual, but severe asthma requires regular medication, sometimes even immediate medical attention. Pediatric asthma is a leading cause of emergency room visits and absences from school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Allergic reactions to environmental triggers, such as pollen or pet dander, can cause asthma attacks, says Leonard Silverstein, M.D., Allergy & Asthma Specialists, of Saddle River. In the Garden State, pollen from grasses, trees, flowers and ragweed can wreak havoc on allergy and asthma sufferers. Exposure to smoke and cold air also can trigger attacks, as can physical expressions of emotion (crying, laughing or yelling, for example).

Many children with asthma experience symptoms when they’re physically active, a condition called exercise-induced bronchospasm. Your child’s doctor can help devise an action plan that makes participating in sports safe. “Most patients can play a sport using a bronchodilator (aka an inhaler) 30 minutes prior to exercise,” says Dr. Silverstein, adding that a prescription medicine like Singulair can bring benefits as well. Once asthma is under control, exercise can actually strengthen airway muscles, improving their function.

The exact cause of pediatric asthma is unknown, but research suggests interplay between the immune system and early exposure to environmental irritants. Genetics also may play a role.

Although there’s no known cure for asthma, most serious effects are avoidable with proper treatment. Your child’s doctor can help you identify and avoid triggers, and develop an action plan to share with school personnel. Medications can help prevent asthma attacks by reducing inflammation in the airways—specifically, inhalers can be used to relax the muscles around the airways during an attack.

In some children with environmental allergies, immunotherapy (allergy shots) can help reduce asthma symptoms, making it easier for children and parents alike to relax

Common Triggers

Asthma symptoms can present themselves without any obvious cause, but asthma can be aggravated by:

  • Allergens, including pet hair and dander, dust mites, mold and pollen n Infections, including a cold or the flu
  • Weather changes, especially colder temperatures
  •  Irritants like cigarette smoke and general air pollution
  • Physical and emotional exertion, including exercise, strong emotions and stress

Common Symptoms

Consult your child’s pediatrician if you suspect asthma. Symptoms include:

  • Frequent cough, especially at night
  • Wheezing while breathing
  • Trouble breathing, shortness of breath, rapid breathing
  • Chest pain, tightness
  •  Fatigue
  • Breathing trouble that limits play

Emergency Symptoms

Since asthma affects breathing, it can be deadly. When in doubt, go to the hospital. Bring your child to the emergency room if he/she is:

  • So out of breath he can’t finish a sentence
  • Wheezing nonstop
  •  Straining chest muscles to breathe
  • Flaring nostrils while breathing
  • Experiencing changes in facial color
  • Not improving after use of quick-acting inhaler

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayo Clinic

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