Asthma is not an infectious disease. Asthma attacks in your toddler can be very frightening and distressing. Once you understand your child’s asthma, you will be able to manage it effectively.
Asthma affects your child’s lungs. Small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs are called airways. When the airways come in contact with things that irritate its inner lining, the tubes narrow down in diameter. This leads to tightening of the airways and more mucus is produced than usual.
What are the symptoms?
Your toddler’s symptoms are cough that will not go away with simple home remedies. Cough can be severe during sleep at night. Your toddler can also have difficulty in breathing; have tightness in the chest or a wheeze, and occasionally, have a sore tummy. Wheezing is the whistle-like noisy breathing heard from the chest.
Is this really asthma?
Nearly one-third of the under 2-year-olds have wheezing at some point. As they grow older, their airways get bigger and eventually they stop wheezing. These toddlers are best not labelled asthmatics.
Asthma can run in families. Common triggers are colds and viruses, damp air, passive smoking, pets, house dust mites and even exercise.
Related content: Seasonal changes and low immunity can cause your toddler to catch cold frequently. Here's what you can do to help him.
How can you help
A parent or caregiver must try to remain calm, reassuring and confident while taking care of a child who's having an attack.
Best modes of treatment
The medicines that can open up closed airways in the lungs are available in the form of syrups, inhalers and nebulizers. Nebulizers and inhalers work alike and are highly effective. Nebulizers are best used with oxygen in a hospital setting, whereas inhalers do not require oxygen and are very user friendly. Parents and caregivers can be easily trained by the paediatrician to use inhalers in the most efficient way even at home. The use of inhalers does not make your child dependent on it. This is a colossal myth. The use of syrups and intra-muscular injections are less effective and outdated ways of treating asthma. In case of emergency, when a child requires oxygen, nebulizer is the best modality of treatment.
There are two types of inhalers, namely relievers and preventers.
Use of reliever inhalers
Every child diagnosed with asthma should have a reliever inhaler. It opens up the airways and makes it easy to breathe. It usually works quickly providing relief within a few minutes. It is very safe—so much so that a toddler can use even up to 10 puffs of reliever inhalers a day for best results under the guidance of the doctor. Your toddler can get a little shaky as a side effect but will get better quickly. Getting help from the nearest hospital should be of high priority if the child shows no improvement in either breathing pattern, level of difficulty in breathing or general well-being wherein she is very tired. Always ask for help when in doubt or when you are worried about your child.
Use of preventer inhalers
Toddlers generally do not require preventer inhalers on a regular basis. If the triggering factors mentioned above are abundant with asthma running in the family, then the child may need preventer inhalers. These preventer inhalers usually contain steroids in small doses. They are taken every day to prevent further attacks of asthma. They protect the lining of the airways and control airway tightening. They will not help relieve sudden symptoms. However, every child may not need a preventer inhaler.
Other important facts
- If the reliever inhaler is used on several occasions during the same attack of asthma, steroid tablets may be prescribed.
- A spacer device is to be used always along with the inhaler in children.
- Your child may also need antibiotics to get better if he has a lung infection along with the wheezing.
The author is Consultant Paediatrician & Paediatric Pulmonologist at Apollo Cradle Hospitals for Women & Children, Chennai.
If you want to know all about asthma and how it affects children, read the following article.