By Matthew M. Dugan, MD | Pediatrics
In childhood asthma, the lungs and airways become easily inflamed when exposed to certain triggers. Inflammation leads to swelling and production of mucus. Triggers vary from child to child but generally include:
Sometimes, asthma symptoms occur with no apparent triggers.
Childhood asthma can interfere with play, sports, school and sleep. In some children, unmanaged asthma can cause dangerous asthma attacks that require emergency treatment and possibly permanent decline in lung function. Most children experience symptoms by age five. Childhood asthma isn’t a different disease from asthma in adults, but children face unique challenges. The condition is a leading cause of emergency department visits, hospitalizations and missed school days. Unfortunately, childhood asthma can’t be cured, and symptoms can continue into adulthood. But with the right treatment, you and your child can keep symptoms under control and prevent damage to growing lungs.
When to see a doctor
Take your child to see the doctor if you suspect he or she has asthma. Early treatment will help control symptoms and possibly prevent asthma attacks. There is no specific test for asthma. Pulmonary function tests (PFTs), often used to confirm a diagnosis of asthma, are very hard to do on children less than 6 years old. They measure how well your child can move air in and out of his or her lungs. To help your pediatrician make a correct diagnosis, be prepared with information such as family history of asthma or allergies, your child’s overall behavior, breathing patterns and his or her responses to foods or possible allergy triggers. The doctor may use a four to six week trial of asthma medicines to see if they make a difference in your child’s symptoms.
Asthma changes over time. If your child is diagnosed with asthma, it is important to check in regularly with your pediatrician. It is also recommended to create an asthma plan that can help you and other caregivers monitor symptoms and know what to do if an asthma attack occurs. By taking the proper precautions, you can help your child breathe easier and be healthier.
Sources: American Thoracic Society; Center for Disease Control