Question on Asthma in Children

Q: There seems to be more mention of Children with Asthma, What is Asthma and why do Children get it?

A: Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects the smaller airways (bronchioles) of the lungs. It is caused by inflammation in the airways and the reason for the inflammation is unknown. This inflammation irritates the muscles around the airways, and causes them to squeeze (constrict). This causes narrowing of the airways. The inflammation also causes the lining of the airways to make extra mucus which causes the typical symptoms (e.g. cough, chest tightness and shortness of breath). These symptoms can range from mild to severe. Treatment is usually with inhalers and they work quite well to ease and prevent symptoms. A typical person with asthma may take a preventer inhaler every day (to prevent symptoms developing), and use a reliever inhaler as and when required (if symptoms flare up).

Asthma can start at any age, but it most commonly starts in childhood. There have been concerns in recent years about the increasing number of asthma cases being diagnosed. However, there isn’t a definitive reason for this increase as many theories have been put forward in an attempt to explain the reason for the apparent increase.

It could just be that awareness of the disease has led to more doctors making a diagnosis of asthma instead of attributing the common symptoms of asthma to other illnesses as they have been doing in the past. Other explanations are available in many medical texts, such as ‘worsening air quality’ although this has been widely disputed. Another explanation suggests that “tight” houses are to blame. Stimuli that promote the development of asthma ? from dust mites to mold to animal danders to second-hand cigarette smoke ? are found in higher concentrations in tightly sealed homes.

Genetics play a significant role in the development of asthma, but is not the only or most significant factor.  Studies have shown that more than half of childhood asthma cases are related to inheritance (meaning that often a parent or family member had or has asthma, too). However, there are other risk factors that increase the chances of developing asthma.  Whether or not a child develops asthma also depends on a combination of risk factors related to:- (1) their own immune system and (2) the environment (air pollution).

There are steps that parents can take in order to delay or possibly prevent the development of asthma from childhood.
– Avoiding exposure to allergens such as dust mites (for example, removing carpets and upholstered furniture from your home)
– Avoiding tobacco smoke before and after pregnancy (quitting smoking for smokers and avoiding secondhand smoke). Babies exposed to second hand smoke are more likely to develop asthma!
– Exclusive breast feeding from birth (in order to strengthen the baby’s immune system and help prevent them getting allergies/infections that may lead to the development of asthma)

In children who have developed asthma, parents can take the above steps and also the following which may help to prevent attacks or reduce the frequency of asthma attacks:-
– Use medications as directed to prevent or stop attacks.
– Get regular checkups from a specialist doctor and follow asthma action plan.
– Avoid known triggers such as dust, pollens, mould, tobacco smoke, stress, certain drugs, fumes from paints and other chemicals, etc
– regular exercise can help prevent attacks ( however in some cases, increased physical activity can trigger attacks). Using an inhaler beforehand can help prevent an attack
– taking precautions to avoid infections such as cold, cough, chest infections and malaria

Contributed by Mrs A Sokunbi RGN RM DipHe BSc (Hons) MSc. For more information about care before, during and after pregnancy, contact FOCUSIMS® on 01-7629779 or 08188192011, e-mail [email protected] or visit our website

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