Asthma in kids: Know the symptoms and how the lung disease affects children

Published on May 29, 2022 12:14 PM IST

If you child is coughing, wheezing, finding it difficult to breath, play outdoors, or sleep at night, you must immediately take your little one to their pediatrician.

Though asthma is the most common chronic disease among children, doctors usually can't make a diagnosis until children are older, by about age 4 or 5.(Shutterstock)
Though asthma is the most common chronic disease among children, doctors usually can't make a diagnosis until children are older, by about age 4 or 5.(Shutterstock)

Asthma can impact people of all age groups including children. If you child is coughing, wheezing, finding it difficult to breath, play outdoors, or sleep at night, you must immediately take your little one to their pediatrician. The recent Global Burden of Disease (GBD, 1990–2019) estimated the total burden of disease in India as 34.3 million, accounting for 13.09% of the global burden. It also attributed those 13.2 thousand deaths were due to asthma, three times higher compared to the global proportion of burden. (Also read: Asthma Awareness Month: What to do in case of an asthma attack; steps to follow)

Though asthma is the most common chronic disease among children, doctors usually can't make a diagnosis until children are older, by about age 4 or 5.

"Young kids are more at risk for wheezing as their airways are very small. When they get a cold or other respiratory tract infection, these already small passages swell and fill with mucus much more easily than an older child's or an adult's. This can cause wheezing, coughing, and other symptoms that people with asthma do," says Dr Ankur Rajvanshi Consultant Neonatologist & Pediatrician, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Whitefield, Bengaluru.

What is asthma and what are its symptoms

Asthma is a common chronic (long-term) lung disease in which the lungs' bronchial tubes, or airways, become inflamed. When the air passages in the lungs become narrow due to inflammation and tightening of the muscles around the small airways, it causes asthma symptoms: cough, wheeze, shortness of breath and chest tightness.

Causes and triggers of asthma

The exact cause is unknown, although it tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic component. Exposure to allergens also triggers symptoms. The main triggers include pollen, air pollutants, smoke, foods, respiratory infections, and medications.

How to manage asthma in kids

Monitoring and Assessment: Asthma symptoms frequently change over time. So regular visits with the healthcare provider who manages your child’s asthma are necessary. It is important to schedule visits at least every three months, more often if things are not going well.

Education: It is crucial for parents of children with asthma to understand the disease and how it is treated. This education may be provided by the pediatrician, a respiratory therapist or an asthma educator, but it is crucial that someone does it. Parents need to know and understand how to administer medications, which inhalers to use and when to use them and how to recognize worsening symptoms and visit ER as required.

Controlling environmental and comorbid conditions: Properly addressing any comorbid conditions as well as removing potential triggers from the child’s environment play a huge role in improving asthma. Worldwide, India has one of the highest concentrations of air pollution caused by biomass, fossil fuels, and vehicular exhausts and the use of mosquito coils, incense and dhoop sticks is an important cause of indoor pollution. By making a few changes sometimes a child can go from needing one or more medications to being medication-free.

Medication: Most kids with asthma need to take medicines. Some are daily medicines (called long-term control medicines) to help keep airways from getting irritated. Others are used only during a flare-up to help open the airways (quick-relief medicines).

Most medicines call for the use of a nebulizer or inhaler to help get medicine into the lungs. The doctor will tell you which medicines your child needs and how to take them. Inhalers and orally administered medications aren’t addictive. Make sure your child gets a yearly flu vaccine. If kids with asthma contact flu they're at risk for flare-ups and developing a more serious illness.

"It's important to tell the doctor about any family history of allergies, asthma, eczema, and sinus problems. This information and careful monitoring of your child over time will help the doctor decide if the symptoms are due to asthma or another problem. The primary goal for children with asthma it to allow kids to be just like the other kids. Allow them to play soccer and keep up with their peers. They should be able to sleep at night without waking up coughing. And a simple cold should not land them in the hospital," says Dr Ankur Rajvanshi.

Does asthma last forever?

"One of the most common questions parents have when a child is diagnosed with asthma is whether asthma medication will be a lifelong necessity. The simple answer is that we do not know. There is no way to know if your child will outgrow his symptoms. Do children that outgrow asthma still have the disease? No one is sure. They certainly are at risk to develop symptoms again in the future, but until then enjoy living asthma-free," concludes Dr Rajvanshi

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