Understanding Childhood Asthma
Childhood Asthma – The Facts
Asthma is a very common, chronic childhood illness characterized by inflammation of the lower airway. Asthma flare-ups are triggered by irritants including different allergens, viruses and even things like laughing and exercise may trigger an asthma attack (The smooth muscle in the airway contracts causing symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing, tightness of chest and coughing). See asthma first aid protocol here
Wheezing is common in children with respiratory viral infections and the presence of a wheeze does not indicate the child has asthma, or will develop asthma at a future time. To help identify the risk of children developing asthma the Asthma Predictive Index was created.
Although childhood asthma can range in severity from mild and intermittent to life threatening, most children will only experience mild symptoms, around 5% will have severe asthma, and unfortunately a small percentage will die from the illness.
The severity of the illness is measured by:
• The frequency of symptoms – Daily, weekly, less than every six weeks and more than every six weeks
• Medications required to control symptoms
• Lung function tests in children over 6 years old (children less than 6 years old are unable to perform a lung function test as they cannot breathe the way the test requires)
Will they grow out of it?
Asthma varies greatly in children; symptoms can start at any age and can be ongoing or just stop, then reoccur years later.
Studies show most young adults with asthma suffered recurrent wheezing in their preschool years. Although a very large Australian longitudinal study showed that two thirds of children suffering mild asthma had no symptoms during adulthood.
• Children with very persistent or severe asthma symptoms are less likely to grow out of it
• Children with hay fever as well as asthma are less likely to grow out of their asthma
• Children with asthma may experience a resurgence of symptoms in adulthood
• Children with asthma are at higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
How To Manage Asthma
There is no cure for asthma. There are two main methods of managing the condition.
1. Using reliever inhalers to control asthma symptoms and give relief during flare-ups (these relax the smooth muscle in the airways and allow them to expand).
2. Reducing inflammation in the airways and lowering sensitivity to irritants with preventer medications such as inhaled corticosteroids.
• Preventer medications generally come in orange/brown dispensers (there are other types and colors of dispenser). They can take up to 72 hours to reach their full effect so should be taken daily.
It is critical that the proper use of an inhaler be taught by a qualified professional to ensure the medication is delivered to the lungs effectively.
See the National Asthma Council Instructional Video.