The facts about Asthma in children

Asthma affects at least 1 in 10 children. We take a look at what asthma is, symptoms and diagnosis of asthma, what you can do to if you suspect your child suffers from it, and ways to treat and prevent the condition.

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sneezing girl

What is asthma?

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Asthma is a narrowing of the airways in the lungs. The wheezing sound occurs when air passes through these thin airways.
We don’t know the exact cause is, but we do know it can run in families.

How can I tell if my child has asthma?

The severity of the illness varies, from very mild to life threatening. The most common symptoms are:
*Wheezing when she breathes out.
*Coughing that continues over a long period of time, particularly if it’s worse at night.
*Breathlessness in a toddler.
*Wheezing or coughing during or after physical activity.

If you’re concerned, visit your GP. In a young child, a diagnosis is usually made just by monitoring the symptoms.
Later on, your GP or practice nurse may use a device called a peak-flow meter to measure how hard your child can breathe out. This will help show if there’s any narrowing of the airways. You may be given your own meter to take home so that you can help monitor your child’s asthma.
If a firm diagnosis is made, you may well be given an inhaler for your child to use to prevent any ameliorate attacks.

What can I do?

If your child develops severe symptoms, or they have an asthma attack that’s much worse than usual, see a doctor urgently. Signs that the attack is very severe include:
*Your child has trouble breathing or is very breathless.
*There’s little or no improvement with her usual inhalers.
*Her lips turn white or blue.
*She’s deteriorating rapidly.
If any of these happen, you should get urgent medical help. Meanwhile, sit her up, keep her calm and give her up to 10 puffs of her reliever inhaler and one at a time via her spacer.

How do you treat asthma?

There’s no cure for asthma but there are ways to treat it that keep the symptoms at bay. Inhalers are the standard and currently most effective treatment. It’s a good idea for both you and your child to learn how to use the inhalers correctly.
If your child continues to be bothered by symptoms, she may need to step up her treatment, so go back to your GP or practice nurse for further investigation.
Rest assured, asthma is something that most children grow out of. Only half of asthmatic children carry the condition into adulthood.

Can I prevent asthma?

Certain things are known to increase the risk of a child developing asthma:
*Being born prematurely.
*Being bottle-fed rather than breastfed.
*Having parents who smoke.
In a child who has established asthma, there are certain allergenic ‘triggers’ that increase the likelihood of an attack. These are:
*Pollen.
*House dust mites.
*Pets.
*Smoke.
*Common viral infections, such as colds or flu.
*Some medicines, such as ibuprofen.
*Exercise (although it should be okay to exercise after using an inhaler).
If your child’s asthma gets worse when she’s indoors, she may be allergic to dust mites. It’s difficult to prevent any contact with them, but to reduce contact:
*Use anti-allergen covers on her mattress and pillows.
*Wash all bedding each week at 60°C minimum.
*Keep bedrooms cool and well ventilated, and air bedding regularly.
*Reduce the number of soft furnishings and rugs around the house as much as possible.
*Put soft toys and even the duvet and pillows in plastic bags in the freezer once a month for 24 hours to kill the mites.
*Use a vacuum cleaner with specialist filters.

For further info:

*Asthma UK: 0207 786 4900, www.asthma.org.uk
*www.bbc.co.uk/health/conditions/asthma2.shtml

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For more information, advice and tips on health issues affecting your baby, toddler and child, don’t miss Practical Parenting magazine each month.

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