by Kathy Sena
Asthma is the leading cause of hospital visits and missed school days in children, according to the National Institute of Health.
A chronic condition, pediatric asthma requires continual care to prevent serious, life-threatening asthma attacks. According to the Respiratory Health Association, more than 9.5 million U.S. children under age 18 are living with asthma.
"Asthma is generally characterized by excessive sensitivity of the lungs to various stimuli," says Michael Facktor, M.D., a pediatric allergy specialist at Geisinger Medical Center, which has multiple locations in Pennsylvania. "Because this condition is so prevalent in children, we encourage parents to look closely for warning signs of asthma. Your child may have more than just a persistent cough."
According to Facktor, common symptoms include difficulty breathing or rapid breaths, shortness of breath while resting, or a persistent nighttime cough.
Triggers that can cause asthma include allergens such as mold, pollen and dander; irritants such as air pollution or cigarette smoke; cold air or changes in the weather; and viral infections such as the common cold.
"Some asthma patients can breathe normally most of the time, but some children with asthma may experience mild symptoms on a continual basis, in the form of wheezing, chest tightness, or coughing — often in the morning, at night, or after physical exertion," says Facktor. "When exposure to triggers causes symptoms to worsen, patients experience an asthma attack that comes on quickly with severe symptoms."
If your child has asthma, know the warning signs of an acute asthma attack. These include difficulty breathing, sweating, and rapid pulse.
"Fortunately, treatment is available for the long-term management of asthma," says Facktor. "Medications are often effective in reducing underlying inflammation in the airways to relieve or prevent airway narrowing. Quick-relief medications are also used to control symptoms during an attack. During a severe asthma attack, children should seek immediate medical attention."
"Asthma can have a big impact on your child's life," says Facktor. "Fortunately, with the proper education, treatment and lifestyle, asthma doesn't have to control your child's life."
— Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist specializing in health and parenting issues and is the mother of a 15-year-old son.