The symptoms of asthma for most children include coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, and they may be brought on or triggered by having a cold, changes in the weather, exercise or exposure to cigarette smoke, pollen, mold, animals, and pollution. If you can learn the things that trigger your child's asthma problems, it can help to avoid them, although finding triggers is often difficult.
Asthma is commonly seen in children. It is a leading cause of hospital stays and school absences. Children with asthma may be able to breathe normally most of the time. When they encounter a substance that can cause problems (a "trigger"), an asthma attack (exacerbation) can occur.
Common asthma triggers include:
- Animals (hair or dander)
- Aspirin and other medications
- Changes in weather (most often cold weather)
- Chemicals in the air or in food
- Strong emotions
- Tobacco smoke
- Viral infections, such as the common cold
In recent years, there has been a worldwide increase in the number of children with asthma. This trend has been linked to environmental factors, including air pollution. However, it is important to understand that indoor triggers can play just as much of a role as outdoor triggers in bringing on an asthma attack.
Children's airways are narrower than those of adults.
This means that triggers that may cause only a slight problem in an adult can create more serious problems in children. In children, an asthma attack can appear suddenly with severe symptoms. For this reason, it is important that asthma be diagnosed and treated correctly. Some children may need to take medicine every day, even when they do not have symptoms.
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast (rapid) breathing
- Shortness of breath, even at rest
- Tightness in the chest
Exams and Tests
Tests may include:
- Lung function tests
- Peak flow measurements
- Chest x-ray
- Allergy skin or blood tests
- Arterial blood gas
- Eosinophil count (a type of white blood cell)
You and your child's pediatrician or allergist should work together as a team to create and carry out an asthma action plan. This plan should outline how to
- Avoid asthma triggers
- Monitor symptoms
- Take medicines
The plan should also tell you when to call the nurse or doctor.
You should also have an emergency plan that outlines what to do when your child's asthma flares up. If your child is in school, make sure teachers, school nurses, physical education teachers, and coaches know about your child's need to take asthma medicine. Find out what you need to do to let your child take his medicine during school hours. (You may need to sign a consent form.) Make sure the school has a copy of your child's asthma action plan.
There is no fool-proof method to prevent asthma attacks. The best way to reduce the number of attacks is to eliminate triggers (especially cigarette smoke) and follow the asthma plan that you develop with your doctor. When families take control of their home environment, asthma symptoms and attacks can be significantly decreased.
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