Pediatric asthma is a common condition affecting nearly 9 million children in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health.
And while medications often effectively control pediatric asthma, it is important to recognize the signs of an asthma attack and know when to seek help.
By working with their pediatrician, parents can develop an asthma action plan that empowers them to start managing an asthma exacerbation at home and recognize the signs and symptoms that require emergency medical care.
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs. If you have asthma, the inside walls of the airways become inflamed. This is especially serious in children because they have smaller airways than adults.
Though asthma can develop at any age, between 80 percent and 90 percent of children with asthma develop symptoms by age 4 or 5 years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children with asthma may exhibit symptoms such as:
• Chest tightness.
• Trouble breathing.
Often, the symptoms are worse in the morning or at night. Other warning signs of asthma may include chronic or recurrent bronchitis, recurrent pneumonia, chronic cough, or lower respiratory infections. If your child suffers from any of these symptoms, talk to your pediatrician about the possibility of asthma.
Many things can trigger asthma. Common triggers include:
• Allergens such as mold, pollen, and house dust mites
• Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, fragrances
• Changes in the weather, cold air, dry air
• Infections of the airways, including viral infections of the nose and throat
• Exercise (About 80 percent of people with asthma develop symptoms when they exercise, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.)
To help limit asthma triggers, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following tips:
• Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke in your home or car
• Reduce exposure to dust mites by covering your child’s mattress and pillows with special allergy-proof casing, washing bedding in hot water every one to two weeks, and vacuuming and dusting regularly
• Reduce exposure to pollen by using an air conditioner in the child’s room with the vent closed, and leaving doors and windows closed during high-pollen times
• Control indoor humidity to prevent mold growth
• Use unscented cleaning products and avoid room deodorizers or scented candles
To diagnose asthma, your pediatrician will perform a physical exam and will discuss your child’s symptoms and history.
Once diagnosed, asthma is typically treated with two kinds of medicines: long-term control medicines to prevent symptoms and quick-relief medicines to stop asthma symptoms when they occur. There are a variety of medications available, and they can come in different forms such an inhaler or a nebulizer. Your pediatrician will work with you to determine what works best for your child.
Additionally, your pediatrician will likely recommend having an asthma action plan detailing how to control asthma long-term and how to handle an asthma attack, including when to seek emergency care.
As the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, the goals of asthma treatment are to minimize symptoms and allow children to participate in normal activities with minimal side effects.
Ideally, a child should not experience asthma symptoms more than once or twice per week, asthma symptoms should not wake a child at night more than twice per month, and a child should be able to play sports and participate in physical education activities.
Signs that an asthmatic child may need emergency attention include:
• A flare-up requiring medication more than every four hours, or that is not relieved after a few treatments
• Not being able to speak in full sentences
• Noticeable contracting of the chest, ribs or belly when breathing
• Unusual anxiety or restlessness
• Change in skin color
• Increased pulse
• Decreased level of alertness