About one in ten children is impacted by asthma. While there’s no cure for this condition, it doesn’t mean your child needs to live in constant fear that he or she may have an attack.
“It’s a very treatable condition. You just have to be very consistent with it,” Susan Abouhassan MD explains.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a disorder that causes the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow, which reduces the amount of air that can pass by. This can lead to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. The severity of asthma falls into one of four categories:
- Mild persistent
- Moderate persistent
- Severe persistent
Intermittent asthma, the most common and least severe type, often comes and goes. Symptoms usually occur two days in a week or less, or occur two nights per month or less. “They have symptoms – not very often – and don’t really need a daily medication,” Dr. Abouhassan explains.
Exercise-induced asthma, which typically occurs during strenuous exercise, falls into this category.
“Then, there are those that are more persistent.” People who suffer from persistent asthma experience symptoms throughout the day, on most days. This type is categorized as mild, moderate and severe, depending on the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms.
What Causes Asthma?
The incidence of pediatric asthma is on the rise, and is the leading cause of hospital stays and school absences. “One of the biggest risk factors for asthma is having a family history of asthma – particularly in mom,” Dr. Abouhassan explains. Other reasons children develop asthma, include:
- Changes in weather (most often cold weather)
- Having allergies
- Living in a large city with lots of pollution
- Gender (asthma develops twice as often in boys as in girls, but after puberty it may be more common in girls)
- Exposure to second-hand smoke
As far as what provokes asthma, everyone has his or her unique set of triggers. Asthma in children is often caused by many of the same things that cause allergies. Triggers can include:
- Dust, cockroach waste, pet dander, indoor and outdoor mold or pollen
- Air pollutants
- Changes in the weather, especially in temperature (particularly cold) and humidity
Will My Child Grow Out of Asthma?
While some children may grow out of it, asthma can actually worsen with age. “Kids that have asthma and concomitant allergies have less of a likelihood of outgrowing it,” Dr. Abouhassan points out. On the other hand, some evidence shows that kids who go on allergy shots at a young age may be protected from developing asthma later in life.
“There’s no magic age,” she warns. “Symptoms will wax and wane with time, so it tends to be very dynamic.”
Asthma Attacks at School: 3 Ways to Prevent and Manage
Doctors typically see a higher incidence of asthma during the school year for a variety of reasons: There are more respiratory infections going around, school is in session during cold winter months, and there’s more likelihood that your child will be exposed to more allergens than usual.
Tip #1: Avoid Exposing Your Child to Triggers
For example, “If your child’s classmate has a cat at home, he or she will likely come to school with cat dander on his or her body, and if that kid is sitting in close proximity, that could actually exacerbate your child's asthma,” Dr. Abouhassan explains.
For this reason, she stresses the importance of knowing what triggers your child, and either minimizing the chance of exposing your child to that trigger or medicating him or her prior to exposure. Similarly, if upper respiratory infections tend to result in asthma attacks for your child, she recommends scheduling an appointment with your child's pediatrician or allergist right away.
Tip #2: Keep an Albuterol Inhaler at School
An albuterol inhaler, or “rescue inhaler,” is typically used on an as-needed basis. “Some kids that have exercise-induced asthma should actually use that before they go to sports practice or play on the playground,” Dr. Abouhassan points out. “But, I think every kid with asthma should have one of those at school.”
Tip #3: Ask Your Doctor for an Asthma Action Plan
An asthma action plan is a written plan that your child’s doctor will give you based on his or her unique asthma triggers and the severity of his or her case. The plan typically shows your child’s daily treatment, and outlines ways to control asthma long-term, as well as how to handle asthma attacks.
Asthma: The Bottom Line
While there’s no blanket approach to treating asthma, Dr. Abouhassan reminds parents that it shouldn’t impact your child's normal life. “Asthma is a chronic condition, but at the same time, it’s very controllable ... If your asthma is so poorly controlled that it's affecting your activities of daily living, it's not optimally controlled and you should see your doctor.”
*All professionals quoted in this article were affiliated with TriHealth at the time of initial publication.