Toddler Asthma: How You Can Help Your Child

Do you get scared when your toddler suffers from an asthma attack? Our expert tells you how to bring relief to your toddler and help her breathe easy.

By Dr Harish VS

Toddler Asthma: How You Can Help Your Child

Srijeet Nambeesan, a two-year-old from Bangalore, had a difficult time sleeping the past few days. He has childhood asthma. It started with regular cold and cough, but at night, he had bouts of unstoppable coughing, followed by breathlessness. His parents were clueless as they did not know how to help him.

Asthma attacks in a toddler can be very frightening and distressing for a parent. But, it is not an infectious disease. Once you understand your child’s asthma, you will be able to manage it effectively.

Understanding asthma

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?

Often, the symptoms of asthma in toddlers are:

  1. A persistent cough that does not go away even after using a cough syrup or natural remedies.
  2. Difficulty in breathing, which can turn severe at night.
  3. A tight feeling in the chest or wheezing (a wheezing is a whistle-like noisy breathing heard from the chest).
  4. An occasional sore tummy can also indicate asthma.

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.

Trigger factors

Asthma can run in families. Common triggers are colds and viruses, damp air, passive smoking, pets, house dust mites and even exercise.

Related content: If you want to know all about asthma and how it affects children, read the following article. 

How you can 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 huge 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, a nebulizer is the best method of treatment.

Types of inhalers: 

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. It should be done under the guidance of the doctor.

Your toddler can get little shaky as a side effect but will get better quickly. Get help from the nearest hospital if the child shows no improvement in breathing pattern. If your child is very tired and has difficulty in breathing,  ask for help. 

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. 

The 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.

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