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Asthma in children: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About asthma in children

Asthma is a lung condition, seen commonly and characterised by periodic episodes of cough and wheezing. It generally results from inflammation and swelling of the hyper responsive airways on exposure to allergens and irritants.

Asthma in children: Incidence, age and sex

Asthma is commonly seen in children though it may be difficult to diagnose the disease in them. Asthma may afflict infants too.

Signs and symptoms of asthma in children: Diagnosis

The clinical features of asthma may vary from mild to severe to acute exacerbations. It is a life long disease with intermittent episodes. It is allergic in nature and cannot be transmitted from person to person. Clinical features include recurring cough with a feeling of tightness in the chest along with breathlessness. Other features include wheezing, which is a whistle like sound produced on exhaling air. These symptoms exacerbate at night or in the early hours of morning. An asthmatic child may feel restless, showing reduced physical activity on occasions. Lethargy reduced feeding and interrupted sleep, are some typical features seen in an asthmatic infant. Occasionally, asthma control may deteriorate and result in acute attacks which may be triggered by allergens, irritants, emotional stress or respiratory infections.

Causes and prevention of asthma in children

The chief factors contributing to asthma are increased sensitivity of the airways to certain trigger factors which causes increased mucus secretions and swelling of airways, resulting in constricting them. Both environmental and genetic factors may play a role in causation. Children with family history of asthma, allergic rhinitis or atopic dermatitis are more prone to develop asthma. Trigger factors that may lead to asthma are allergens like mould, house dust, pollen and irritants like smoke, vehicular pollution, paints. Any kind of psychological stress or even extreme cold may trigger an episode of asthma.

Physical exercise or respiratory infections are significant triggers inducing an asthmatic attack in children. Detailed history and physical examination may lead to the detection of the disease. Peak flow meter which assesses the capacity of lung to expel air may be helpful in investigating children more than 6 years of age.

Asthma in children: Complications

Poor control of asthma may increase chances of acute exacerbations which may be life threatening in children due to narrow air passages. This may occur on exposure to triggering agent, leading to immediate swelling of airways coupled with excessive mucus secretion which may clog the airways. The child may experience severe breathlessness which may be life-threatening. This is a potential medical emergency which should be immediately dealt with.

Asthma in children: Treatment

Asthma is a treatable disease but unfortunately it cannot be cured. Two kinds of medications are prescribed to the patient; one is the controller medication and other reliever medication. Controller medications are slow but long acting drugs which help in controlling asthma and thus preventing future exacerbations. Asthmatic patients are required to take controller medications regularly. Reliever medications are needed for immediate relief of asthmatic symptoms. They are short acting and their function is to dilate the constricted air passages. These asthmatic medications are given by inhaler devices called nebuliser or inhaler. It is always better to give drugs via nebuliser in children. In resistant cases, where asthma remains uncontrolled, oral steroids may be prescribed for better control.

In an acute attack, take the reliever medication immediately and then wait for 10 minutes. If there is no relief, then inhale the reliever medication every 2 minutes for another 10 minutes. Contact the doctor at once if symptoms are not alleviated. Patient education plays an integral role in asthma management. Periodic assessment and monitoring of asthma every 3 to 6 months is essential.