Rohita Jain, mother to four-year-old Aakash, is a parent who is fully aware of the difficulties of handling a child with asthma. For Aakash has frequent attacks of asthma, both at school and at home. During his bouts of asthma, he suffers from difficulty in breathing, experiences pain in his chest and coughs without stopping. Sometimes, Rohita has no clue how to handle these asthma attacks that spring up anytime and anywhere.
This is not an isolated case. There are many parents whose children suffer from asthma and they experience the same anxiety and helplessness that Rohita does. Watching a child struggle to lead a normal life due to asthma is a difficult emotion for any parent.
According to a leading news website, India has 10 per cent of the world’s asthma patients with the mean prevalence of asthma in children being 7.24 per cent. Alarmingly, the prevalence of childhood asthma has continued to increase in the last 10 years in the Indian subcontinent.
What is asthma?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), asthma is characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing. It is a condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, which are the passageways that allow air to enter and leave the lungs. Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children. However, the conditions of asthma vary from individual to individual depending on the severity of the attack and frequency.
Although asthma is common in all age groups, it usually begins in childhood.
"There are many types of asthma such as cardiac asthma, wheezing asthma, and specific types of asthma that are transmitted from the parent to child. Sometimes, allergic rashes in children can be a precursor to asthma, which can also be triggered by viral infection or a food allergy. Sometimes, even chocolate, cake, ice cream, citrus fruits, seafood, etc. can cause asthma,” says G.S.Kailash.
When a child has asthma, the bronchial tubes that carry air to the lungs get inflamed and become highly sensitive. During this condition, even a little amount of dust, a sudden blast of cold air, a puff of smoke, a cold virus can result in tight squeezing of the bronchial tubes, which leaves little room for air to pass. When this happens, asthma attack occurs. If your child has asthma, there is no need to panic.
We look at 5 ways that help you handle asthma attacks in children.
1) Identify the asthma triggers in your child
Asthma triggers vary from one child to another. For some, it may be pollen while for others it may be the cold air or even smoke from a cigarette. Learning to identify asthma triggers goes a long way in handling asthma attacks in children. Take the doctor's help to identify triggers and understand ways through which you can help your child. Some common asthma triggers are cold, pollen, dust mites, dampness, etc.
2) Write down a plan to track symptoms
An asthma action plan can help you know how well your child is responding to treatment based on the symptoms. Along with your child’s doctor, create a plan that clearly outlines steps needed to manage your child’s asthma. Once you successfully make a plan, share it with your child’s caretaker, your family members, the teachers at your child’s school, etc. This plan can help you and your child track how often he has asthma flare-ups, how well the medications are working, any side effects of medication, how much the symptoms affect your child’s daily activities, and when to seek medical care.
3) Get a flu shot each fall to prevent chances of getting asthma
A flu shot is one effective way to handle asthma attacks in children. Make sure your child gets his flu shot each fall. However, a flu shot does not mean your child will not get asthma. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who are allergic to eggs should avoid the nasal-spray version of the flu vaccine. They should get their flu shot in the doctor’s office and not at a drugstore or a pharmacy. Also, after every six months, visit the doctor so the doctor can monitor symptoms and suggest medication, whether less or more.
There should be no restrictions on children's ability to play, take gym class, or compete in sports just because they have asthma. A well-controlled asthma doesn't interfere in day-to-day activities. Go through the below article to know more.
4) Do a thorough research of asthma
While trying to handle asthma attacks in children, parents often overlook one important aspect – that a thorough knowledge of asthma helps a lot. Learning exactly what steps to take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis will prove useful. Parents need to understand the different types of medications for asthma and the way they work, recognise and record signs and symptoms of worsening asthma, and know what action to perform in case the child’s asthma gets worse.
5) Give quick-relief medicine
If there is a sudden asthma attack and you are not well prepared to handle it apart from having an inhaler handy, you can follow these steps. Sit the child upright comfortably and loosen any tight clothing; give one puff of quick-relief medicine from the child’s inhaler, ask the child to take four breaths from the spacer followed by at least three more puffs. If the child does not use an inhaler, use one from the first-aid kit.
Symptoms of asthma:
Children who have asthma exhibit symptoms before they turn 5 years of age. Common symptoms of asthma in children include:
- Bouts of coughing, especially during the night
- Breathing accompanied by a wheezing or whistling sound
- Difficulty in breathing or fast breathing
- Periods of frequent colds that settle in the chest
- Inability to talk without gasping
- Pale and sweaty face
- Blue lips and fingernails
- Chest pain or pressure
Parents need to watch out for the above signs and not mistake any asthma symptom for cold or bronchitis. If these symptoms occur, it is a strong indicator that a child has asthma.
Tests to diagnose asthma:
Doctors often conduct the same tests used for adults on children aged 5 years and older such as spirometry and peak flow meters. These tests measure the quantity of air the child can quickly force out of his or her lungs. This indicates how well the lungs are functioning.
Asthma is the leading cause of chronic illness in children. In such a case, how can parents identify that their children are asthmatic? Go through this ClipBook to know more.
Treatment of asthma:
Treatment often depends on the severity and frequency of the symptoms. Often, doctors may prescribe certain medicines to deal with childhood asthma such as quick-relief medicines. Any child suffering from asthma requires a quick-relief medicine to treat the noisy part like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Note: Parents of children with asthma should always carry certain things with them always such as an inhaler, if the child is using one and a copy of the child's asthma action plan.
Asthma: Myths Vs Facts
1) Myth: Children with asthma should avoid physical activity
Fact: Exercise is as important for children with asthma as it is for everyone else. With proper care and precaution, children with asthma can indulge in physical activity and play outdoor games.
2) Myth: Asthma can be outgrown with age
Fact: The symptoms of asthma may improve as children get older but it is a lifelong condition. Some children may notice a marked decrease in asthma symptoms but in many of the cases, symptoms recur eventually.
3) Myth: Asthma medications stop working over time
Fact: Asthma medicines remain an effective treatment if used regularly and as directed by the doctor. Taking the right dose of medications will ensure they do not lose their effectiveness.
Can one prevent asthma in children?
There is no proven way through which one can prevent asthma. However, one can always take steps to reduce the risk of developing asthma through measures like:
- Reducing the child’s exposure to allergens in the air
- Avoiding outdoor activities on days when the air quality is poor
- Keeping the house free from mould and insects like cockroaches
With inputs from G.S.Kailash, Pulmonologist, MBBS, MD - Pulmonary Medicine , Diploma in Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases, Chennai.
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