Do you know how to spot the signs of asthma in children? Every day, 36,000 American kids miss school due to asthma (thirty-six thousand — that’s not a typo). It follows, then, that this inflammation of the small airways of the lungs is the most common chronic children’s condition in the country, affecting 6.8 million youngsters, nearly 10 percent of the under-18 population.
Alarming as they are, these figures from the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put all parents on notice to stay on the lookout for early signs of pediatric asthma. It’s especially important to do so now, with the onset of the spring-allergy season.
Common signs of asthma in kids include:
- a persistent cough (especially at night)
- frequent respiratory infections
- chest congestion or tightness
- difficulty breathing during exercise
- unexplained fatigue
- recurrent bronchitis
“Don’t brush off signs that your child’s body is giving,” says Christopher C. Chang, MD, chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy/Immunology at Wilmington, DE’s Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children. “The cough he had for only a few days could lead to an asthma attack.”
Control asthma triggers
Though the exact causes of asthma are not known, it’s well established that a combination of genetic and environmental agents contribute to the inflammation. Viral infections, cold air that doesn’t have time to moisturize before reaching the lungs and irritants like air pollution and second- or third-hand cigarette smoke can all effect asthma attacks.
Allergens — think mold, dust, pollen, dander — are also a prominent factor. “Ninety percent of people with asthma have allergies,” says Marc F. Goldstein, MD, codirector of The Asthma Center in Philadelphia. “It’s key to find the allergic reactions that trigger your child’s asthma and change the environmental issues that you have control over.”
Creating an asthma-friendly environment depends on your child’s triggers. For example, if your daughter has a dander allergy and you have a pet, keep the animal out of her bedroom. Stay on top of dust mites by frequently cleaning with a HEPA-filter vacuum and have any mold in the home removed. Cigarette smoke residue can stick to walls and fabrics,so make sure that any smokers who live with you or visit take their habit outside.
Avoid asthma attacks
Quick-relief medications such as emergency inhalers, a nebulizer with compress and corticosteroids do a good job of alleviating symptoms. “Prevent exacerbations by getting routine vaccinations,” says Dr. Chang. “Make sure kids take their daily medicine, as it reduces the inflammation in the bronchial tubes, and don’t miss doses.” The link between obesity and asthma is under debate, but exercise is not. “We used to tell asthmatics not to exercise because it could flare an attack, but today we want them to exercise, as it helps with better lung function,” says Dr. Goldstein.
“The more control you and your child have over his asthma, the less school he’ll miss,” says Dr. Chang. “In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.”
Mom-of-two Ilene Laurel is a local freelance writer. MetroKids intern Brittany Hair contributed to this article.