Childhood Asthma

What is childhood asthma?

Asthma is a persistent, long-lasting inflammatory condition which affects the airways. When this condition begins in childhood, it is often called childhood asthma. It leads to sudden, reversible (not permanent), airway narrowing or blockage and reduced airflow. Air pollution and allergens may be triggers for asthma attacks. These attacks are characterized by wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Severe episodes of asthma can be recognized by breathlessness at rest and not being able to eat or speak a whole sentence without stopping for breath. Asthma in children can be made worse by exposure to cigarette smoke, airway infections or by allergies. Symptoms are usually well managed with medication and by avoiding things that are known to make symptoms worse.

Risks

Children who have parents who have asthma and children who have allergies are more likely to develop asthma. Children who are exposed to irritating fumes, such as cigarette smoke and air pollution are also more likely to develop asthma than other children.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms are shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. During a bad episode of asthma, children might be breathless at rest, be unable to speak a full sentence without stopping, and cough up clear or discolored mucus. Symptoms may come on suddenly, or in response to a trigger. Some people find that their symptoms worsen over 1 or 2 weeks before they have an especially bad episode of asthma. Asthma symptoms may be worse at night. Symptoms are the result of inflammation, which causes narrowing of the airways. This makes normal airflow into the lungs difficult.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually made after assessing the symptoms, examining the child and excluding other conditions, such as airway infections. A doctor will also perform a breathing test, called spirometry, to test the flow of air through the lungs and airways

Treatment

Inhaled medications that target airway inflammation are used to improve symptoms. These medications are sometimes taken regularly and sometimes just at times when the child is wheezing or breathless. At times of severe asthma symptoms, children might need oxygen or other emergency treatments to help them breathe.

Prevention

Taking care to prevent the spread of colds or the flu in the home and community can help prevent episodes of asthma. Avoiding things that make the asthma worse (allergies, areas of air pollution, exercise) can help with managing symptoms. Not allowing cigarette smoking in the home or near children can help prevent asthma or reduce the number of asthma attacks.

Other names for childhood asthma

  • Asthma in children
  • Bronchial asthma in children
  • Pediatric asthma