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Doctor on Call: Understanding Your Child’s Asthma

Andrew S. Kim, MD

Allergy & Asthma Center of Fredericksburg, www.AllergyAsthmaDoctors.Com

Has your child experienced significant coughing or wheezing, causing you to wonder if he or she has asthma? The CDC reports that asthma cases more than doubled in the United States from 1980 to 2000. In fact, more than six million children have asthma in the U.S. Asthma is the number one cause of hospitalizations and days lost from school in children. It is the most common cause of childhood disability and results in an average of 10 days lost from school per year due to asthma related illnesses. Every day, 5000 people will visit emergency room due to their asthma. Anyone, young or old, can get asthma. If you have a family history of asthma, allergies (hay fever), or eczema, you are more likely to develop it.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a very common condition that affects the lungs and can make breathing difficult. The symptoms of asthma are caused by greater than normal sensitivity or “twitchiness” of the air passages to a variety of substances or conditions. The air passages may become blocked by swelling or inflammation inside the air passages, tightening of muscles around the air passages or increased mucus or phlegm production inside the air passages. Children with asthma may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Cough, often worse during the night or after exercise
  • Shortness of breath:

  1. Breathing out taking longer than usual
  2. Difficulty completing sentences when talking
  3. Difficulty breathing during exercise
  4. In infants, possible trouble drinking from a bottle or nursing

  • Wheezing or “whistling” sound in chest
  • Tightness or discomfort in chest
  • Waking up at night with asthma symptoms

It is important to note that asthma does not go away when the symptoms are gone. Symptoms of asthma can be mild or severe. Severe symptoms can be life-threatening so it is important to know what to do in case of an attack and work closely with your child’s doctor.

What Causes the Symptoms of Asthma?

There are many different triggers for asthma. For most children with asthma, there is a proven link between allergies and asthma. In fact, 80-90% of childhood asthma is considered to be allergic asthma. Thus it is important to know and be able to control your child’s known allergens such as pollens, molds, dust mites, and exposures to cats and dogs. Other important triggers of asthma are:

  • Virus infections including the common cold
  • Exercise
  • Cigarette smoke, fragrances, fumes or pollution
  • Cold air
  • Heartburn or acid reflux

Controlling Asthma

Children with asthma should be able to enjoy normal activities and sports. Controlling asthma symptoms requires good communication between you, your doctor and your healthcare team. For your part, it is absolutely important that you understand and follow your child’s treatment plan. If you have a teenager, your teen must have a good understanding of asthma and understand that some medications, called “controllers,” must be used daily even when there are no symptoms. If you are unable to follow parts of the treatment plan, you must communicate this with your doctor. It is also helpful if you keep a record of your child’s symptoms between the visits. Also you must have an asthma action plan and know what to do if your child’s symptoms get out of control. By working with your doctor and health care team, monitoring your child’s symptoms closely, avoiding triggers, and maintaining treatment with appropriate medications, your child should be able to lead a normal life.

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