By: Jennifer Heegard, MD

Asthma is a chronic disease of inflammation of the lungs. When the lungs are exposed to a trigger such as a cold or allergen, the tubes in the lungs (or bronchi) will spasm, causing narrowing and difficulty breathing. Nearly 1 in 12 children have asthma in the United States today so, while it is definitely not ideal if your child is diagnosed with asthma, there are a lot of tools in place to support a child with this disease.

Like most things in life, knowledge is key. So if your child wheezes regularly, has trouble breathing, complains of a tightening in the chest, and/or has a persistent cough, it is definitely worth seeking a pediatrician’s opinion.

How is Asthma Diagnosed?

While you and your pediatrician may be suspicious that your child has asthma, there are a lot of variables that come into play before you will land on a final diagnosis. Age, family history, and consistency of symptoms are all considered by your child’s physician and they may run a few tests to help zero in on an asthma diagnosis.

Treatments for Asthma

Since there is no cure for asthma, managing symptoms is the name of the game. Fortunately, we live in a day in age where there are quite a few options when it comes to helping your child live with asthma.

Common medications include:

  • Albuterol, referred to as a rescue medicine, helps your child’s bronchi open up which makes it easier to breath. Using good technique with a spacer is essential for getting this medicine into your child’s lungs, so make sure to ask their provider if you aren’t sure how to do it properly
  • Daily inhaled steroids, like flovent or qvar, may be prescribed if your child is experiencing frequent flare-ups.
  • Singulair, a chewable medicine, can also be helpful for preventing asthmatic symptoms.

Children with asthma should see their provider every 3-6 months to see how well their asthma is controlled and if treatment needs to be changed. Kids over the age of 5 who live with this disease benefit from a breathing test called spirometry every year and, the annual flu vaccine is extra important since children with asthma are more likely to have worse outcomes from the flu.

What is an Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack—also called asthma exacerbation—is when your child’s bronchi constrict, making it harder for them to breathe.  If your child is having an asthma attack, they may be wheezing, breathing really fast, using their abdominal muscles to breathe, or you may notice retractions (the area between the ribs sinking in). Your provider can give you an Asthma Action Plan so you know exactly what to do if this happens.  Generally speaking, give 4 puffs of albuterol, repeat every 20 minutes ,and go to the ER if your child is still having trouble breathing after 2 or 3 doses.

An asthma attack can of course be terrifying, but knowing what triggers your child’s asthma can help in preventing severe reactions like an attack. Common triggers include pollen, fragrances (think cleaning supplies or air fresheners), illness, or cigarette smoke. These triggers should be avoided when possible.

Can My Child Grow Out of their Asthma?

Yes and no.  Most kids will show less symptoms as they get older, and may appear to have outgrown asthma all together. There is a small chance they will still have trouble breathing if around triggers (like cigarette smoke), so it is important to keep an inhaler on hand just in case.

Can My Child Play Sports with Asthma?

Absolutely! Despite an asthma diagnosis, we want your child to be able to fully participate in the sport of their choice. Childhood exercise obviously has many health benefits, not to mention the valuable lessons your child can learn from being a part of a team. If your child’s asthma is well-controlled, they should be able to do anything they want to physically. Many famous athletes have asthma, including soccer star David Beckham, Olympic track athlete Paula Radcliffe, and NFL running back Emmitt Smith…just to name a few.

We know seeing your child struggle at any capacity is difficult to say the least. If you think your child may have asthma, or you have questions about your child’s diagnosed asthma, please do not not hesitate to reach to us. As always, we are here for you.

Until next time,

Dr. Jenny Heegard

Parkside Provider, potato chip stealer, and avid book worm

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