Ever since my daughter started preschool, she has not only managed to take home school-related work and certificates, but she has also gotten her share of viruses and infections. Recently, her respiratory infection was so bad that it triggered asthma. In children, asthma is considered as one of the top reasons of missed school and even emergency room visits per year.  But what is asthma exactly? And how will you know if it’s no longer just an ordinary cough?

What is asthma?

Asthma is the temporary narrowing of the airways, which is oftentimes caused by allergy triggers such as pollen, animal dander, mold, and dust mites. It can also flare up when a child is suffering from a respiratory infection or even just a common cold. An asthmatic attack may also occur after an exercise or a strenuous physical activity. It can also be triggered after ingestion of food items with sulfites or preservatives and other foods that are highly allergenic. Although it can happen at any age, many children first show symptoms at age 5.

The cause of asthma is not clearly understood but it is believed that environmental and genetic factors play a role. When exposed to an asthma trigger, the airways become swollen and with a corresponding increase in mucus production, a child will experience difficulty in breathing.

What increases your child’s risk?

Kids with a family history of allergies, asthma, hives or eczema have an increased risk of getting asthma. Exposure to cigarette smoke and air pollution can also increase a person’s risk for developing asthma. Likewise, kids with obesity, inflamed sinuses and rhinitis are also considered at risk groups.

What are the symptoms?

Asthma symptoms can vary in children and not all attacks are also the same. But the most common symptoms are:

– Cough – with or without phlegm

– Wheezing – high-pitched whistling sound heard during breathing

– Shortness of breath that may worsen with active play or any other type of physical activity

– Intercostal retractions – inward movement of the muscles between the ribs when breathing

– Fatigue

– Chest pain or chest tightness

– Intermittent rapid breathing

How is it diagnosed?

It is difficult to diagnose asthma in very young children because lung function tests yield reliable results only after a child turns 6 years old. At times, no final diagnosis is made just because some children outgrow symptoms before they even turn 6 years old. While doctors may rely heavily on a child’s symptoms, they are very conservative in terms of treating younger children because the long-term effects of asthma medications are not yet clear. For older kids, a lung function test called spirometry is used to confirm a diagnosis of asthma. Other tests may also be ordered when necessary.

How is it treated?

Treatment may vary from person to person but common quick-relief medications include:

–  Short-acting beta agonists – acts by easing symptoms during an attack

–  Ipratropium – works by relaxing the airways

–  Corticosteroids – reduces airway inflammation

For long-term treatment, inhaled corticosterioids, leukotriene modifiers, theophylline, and combination inhalers may be prescribed. Allergy medications may also be ordered if you child’s asthma is aggravated by allergies.

How to prevent attacks?

Maintain a low humidity at home and make sure that you regularly have your air conditioner cleaned. During pollen season, make sure that you keep your windows closed. Use the air conditioner because it is also an effective way of reducing your child’s exposure to dust mites. Replace filters in your furnace and air conditioner according to the maker’s instructions to keep indoor air clean.  Most of all, it’s vital that you clean your home at least twice a week to keep dust and allergens from accumulating. If your child’s asthma is triggered by allergies, make sure that you don’t serve highly-allergenic foods.

Will my child be allowed to get involved with sports?

With the approval of a doctor, your child has every right to enjoy sports and other physically demanding activities just like any other kid. Exercise is even encouraged because it can help reduce asthma symptoms. Asthmatics usually tolerate activities like biking, aerobics, and walking and sports-related activities such as volleyball, gymnastics, baseball and, wrestling. However, it’s also crucial that you teach your child to respect his body. When he suddenly develops symptoms during an activity, he should immediately stop and take his prescribed medications.