Dr. Tanya Remer-Altmann
Pediatrician and Author
Asthma is a very common childhood disease that affects the small airways in the lungs. When children with asthma are exposed to a trigger, such as a cold or something in the environment that they are allergic to, the small airways in their lungs become inflamed and narrowed. This causes difficulty breathing out, which is usually heard as wheezing. If controlled properly by your pediatrician or allergist, asthma should not interfere with your daily life. Kids with asthma should be able to do everything that other kids do.
Asthma symptoms may include a cough that gets worse either at night, with exercise, or with exposure to an irritant such as cigarette smoke or an allergen such as animals or grass. You may hear a wheezing sound when the child breathes out. Older children will tell you that their chest hurts or that they can't breathe.
An asthma attack is when someone has an episode where they start wheezing and have trouble breathing. In children, the most common trigger for an asthma attack is a viral infection such as a cold. Other triggers include animal dander from furry pets such as dogs and cats, allergic things in the house such as dust, allergic things in the environment such as pollen and irritants such as cigarette smoke or paint fumes.
Providers can help reduce asthma triggers by making sure that the home environment is clean and free of pets and cigarette smoke. Also, be aware of outdoor allergies such as pollen and grass that kids may be exposed to or triggers they might be exposed to on field trips such as a petting zoo.
There are several good preventive medications for children that can protect their airways and prevent them from reacting when they get a cold or are around things they are allergic to such as cats or grass. In addition, a child with asthma should always have their rescue medication with them, usually an inhaler or nebulizer, in case they have an asthma attack. This rescue medication helps open up the lungs and make it easier to breath.
If any of your children have asthma, you should be aware of any specific triggers that affect them. You should also have written instruction for any rescue medication that you may need to administer and a list of signs or symptoms to use it for, such as cough or wheezing. Don't forget to have a parent and pediatrician emergency contact number for all children Ė not just asthma sufferers.
As with any child with a chronic illness, talk to the parents and make sure that you understand the signs and symptoms that you need to be aware of. Know when to call the parents, when to administer medication, and when to call 911, if needed.