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Asthma: Know the Risks for Your Child

Seeing your child struggle to breathe can be scary for a parent, and there is no cure for asthma. Understanding and avoiding asthma triggers is key to helping your child have a life without limitations.

The most common chronic lung disease in kids, asthma affects about 6 million children in the United States. When left unmanaged, childhood asthma can become problematic.  

Why Do Kids Get Asthma?

Some triggers for the development of asthma include:

  • Viral respiratory infection

  • Strong allergens

  • Family history of asthma

  • Underlying genetic predisposition

Asthma typically shows up in kids through a cough associated with a cold virus. If your child is still coughing two or more weeks after having a cold, this may be the first indication that the child is suffering from asthma.

Two things happen during an asthma attack. One is inflammation, or a swelling inside the airway that causes the airway to narrow and make it difficult to breathe. Second is bronchospasm, or tightening of the airway. 

Treating Children Who Have Asthma

When properly managed, asthma-related fatalities are rare. The greatest risk to a child is having asthma that is left untreated. Once your child starts preventative therapy with an asthma specialist, their risk level decreases.

Ongoing and emergency treatments of asthma differ. Asthma is typically managed using an inhaled steroid twice daily, even without symptoms. An anti-inflammatory, this inhaler treats the swelling of the airway. During an asthma attack, a second “rescue inhaler” — called a bronchodilator — is used every four hours as needed to relax the tightening of the airways.

It’s critical to be aware of triggers for your child’s asthma and be diligent to avoid exposure. For example, if a child is allergic to peanuts, an EpiPen would be prescribed in case of exposure. 

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Tobacco smoke

  • Dust mites

  • Outdoor air pollution

  • Pests

  • Pet hair

  • Mold

  • Cleaning and disinfection product fragrances

  • Respiratory illness

  • Pollen

  • Acid reflux

  • Exercise

  • Weather fluctuations

  • Food additives

  • Strong emotional responses, i.e. hyperventilation

Understanding your child’s specific sensitivities is essential in their preventative care, and this is something that will be learned over time.

Be Proactive Seeking Treatment

Be sure to discuss any concerns about your child’s breathing with your pediatrician. If a child is having recurrent symptoms, the primary care doctor will often refer them to an asthma specialist, or pediatric pulmonologist, for additional testing.  

Head to the emergency room immediately if your child shows these symptoms:

  • Labored breathing

  • Persistent cough

  • Sucking in around the ribs or using the stomach to breathe

  • Pale skin or bluish lips

If a child is hospitalized for asthma and requires emergency treatment, or it’s affecting their quality of life, then it’s time to see an asthma specialist.

Many children, especially those diagnosed at a young age, will outgrow their asthma symptoms as they get older. Others may experience a type of remission, where asthma symptoms disappear for a period of years and then suddenly return either due to a respiratory illness such as viral bronchitis or pneumonia, a life event such as pregnancy, or other allergen triggers. If a persistent cough or difficulties breathing do recur, it’s time to revisit the pulmonologist.

Children who have asthma can expect to have a normal quality of life when it is properly diagnosed and managed.


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