9 Things You Need to Know about Children with Asthma

You can stay on top of your child’s asthma if you understand their needs.

Asthma symptoms don’t need to get in the way if your child’s symptoms are managed well. If you understand these 9 things about your child with asthma, they’ll be able to get on with all the things they like doing.

1. Symptoms of Childhood Asthma

Symptoms can vary from child to child and episode to episode, but these are the most common signs and symptoms of asthma in children.

  • Coughing a lot when crying, laughing or playing, or at night
  • Limited energy when playing
  • Sore chest, or chest tightness
  • Retractions (see-saw motions in the chest from difficulty breathing)
  • Tight muscles in chest and neck
  • Feelings of weakness or tiredness
  • Shortness of breath, loss of breath
  • Wheezing (whistling sound when breathing in or out)
  • Rapid breathing (intermittently)
  • Chronic cough (this is sometimes the only symptom a child will have)

Any illness that complicates your child’s breathing should be evaluated by a doctor, whether or not it matches the symptoms above. Although the illnesses will often respond to asthma medications, many doctors will use words like “bronchiolitis” or “reactive airways dysfunction syndrome” when toddlers and infants experience wheezing with a cough or shortness of breath.

2. Asthma Testing Age

Until your child is aged five or over, tests for asthma may not be accurate.

3. Your Child’s Medicines Should Be Taken as Prescribed

Medication will be necessary for most kids with asthma. Some will help keep airways from getting irritated, and will need to be taken daily (called long-term control medicines). Quick-relief medicines may also be necessary and should be used only during a flare-up to help open the airways. Most of these medicines will need to get straight into the lungs, which is what inhalers and nebulizers are for.

Liquid and pill forms are available for some medicines. Your child’s doctor can tell you how a medicine should be taken and which ones your child needs to be taking.

4. Their Symptoms Will Come and Go

If they aren’t hearing their child wheeze every day, many parents are tricked into believing that their child can’t really have asthma. You don’t have to have asthma to wheeze, of course – it may just be a lung infection or a bad cold. But it’s likely to be asthma if it’s happened a few times or more. Nobody wants their child to have a chronic disease, so it’s understandable if you want to avoid the diagnosis. If you want to figure out what triggers your child’s symptoms and how you can keep them healthy, though, you need to have a proper diagnosis from the doctor.

5. Children Aged 0 to 5 Will Need Help with Inhalers

Younger children will need to use a mask attached to a spacer, as their mouths will be too small to form a seal around the mouthpiece. The spacer can hold the medication while they inhale, so it’ll be easier for them to breathe it in.

When your child needs their medication, hold the mask up to their face and press down on the inhaler. Keep the mask in place until they’ve breathed in and out six times.

Children will sometimes cry and push against the mask. This can be distressing, but so long as they’re still breathing in, they’ll be getting their medicine. Your child will get used to the mask eventually. Try to put your child at ease by singing to them while they’re using the mask, or by helping them to practice using the mask on a teddy bear.

6. Emergencies Happen

Your child may struggle to breathe in severe cases, and you might see their chest and sides pulling inward. Chest pains, increased heartbeat and sweating can also be signs that something is going wrong. If your child…

  • Is struggling to catch their breath and has had to stop mid-sentence
  • Is breathing in through flared nostrils
  • Has to suck their abdomen in under their ribs to breathe in
  • Is using abdominal muscles to breathe

… and isn’t responding to medication, head straight for the emergency room.

Seek medical attention immediately if your child has trouble breathing, even if they haven’t been diagnosed with asthma. Asthma attacks tend to start with coughing, followed by laboured breathing and wheezing. They can vary in levels of severity.

7. Other Conditions Can Produce Asthma-Like Symptoms

The symptoms caused by asthma can be similar to those of a number of other childhood conditions. These conditions also commonly occur with asthma, just to make things a little more confusing. When testing your child for asthma, the doctor will have to figure out whether the symptoms are caused by asthma, asthma alongside another condition, or just another condition.

The following conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of asthma:

  • Coryza (inflammation and irritation inside the nose)
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or acid reflux
  • DB (dysfunctional breathing)
  • Respiratory tract infections such as bronchiolitis and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Airway abnormalities
  • Sinusitis

8. Asthma is Serious

If it’s not treated properly, asthma can be deadly. It is a serious disease. Normal, active lives are possible for people with asthma if their condition is treated the right way.

9. Inflammation Causes Asthma Symptoms

Symptoms like tight chest, choking, wheezing and breathlessness are caused by inflammation within the tubes of the lungs. Every person will have individual triggers that can make this inflammation worse. Avoiding these triggers and taking medication to reduce inflammation are the best ways to control asthma symptoms.

For more information about asthma, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Asthma which discusses the diagnosis and symptoms of asthma and looks at how it affects all age groups. Understanding asthma is the key to gaining control of its symptoms and enjoying your life more fully, whether you talk to your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist!

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