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How to Help Your Child with Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is one of the main reasons children are admitted to the hospital and miss school. Asthma is a chronic disease of the tubes that carry air to the lungs. These “airways” become narrow and their linings become swollen, irritated, and inflamed. Irritants like colds and other viral infections, cigarette smoke, cold air, and particles or chemicals in the air can be sensitive to children with asthma. Allergies such as dust, pollen, animals, and mold can also be irritants as well.

How to recognize asthma?

For younger children, first signs of airway narrowing may include the following:

  • Coughing at night
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing in which your child uses extra muscles to “push” air out
  • Noisy breathing or difficulty exhaling (wheezing)
  • Refusing to participate in physical activities with other children

A cough may be the first and sometimes the only asthma symptom. Symptoms vary between each person. It can be difficult to diagnose a child of this age with asthma. In many young, children, what may seem to be asthma symptoms are often respiratory infections caused by viruses.

What to do if your child has symptoms of asthma?

If your child has symptoms of asthma, talk to your pediatrician about how to control them. Be sure to ask your pediatrician for a written asthma action plan that includes advice about the following:

  • How to prevent or reduce asthma symptoms
  • How to recognize asthma symptoms and look for worsening asthma symptoms
  • What treatment should be given first
  • What to do if the symptoms get worse
  • What to do in an emergency

For children over 5 or 6 years of age, you can measure the amount of air they can breathe with the use of a simple device called a peak flow meter. The peak flow meter will help you measure the flow of air from your child’s lungs so that you can tell if the airways are narrowed. Some children will have symptoms often and require medication everyday; others may just need medication once in awhile. There are 2 groups of medications for asthma—long-term control and quick relief. Long-term control (prevention) is used when the airway becomes inflamed and cause swelling and pain. Quick relief (rescue) is used to open up narrowed airways and help relieve the feeling of tightness in the chest, wheezing, and breathlessness. Quick relief drugs are usually inhaled in an aerosol (mist) form, but also can be given by injection.

Mild, moderate, and severe asthma symptoms

At times your child’s airways may become more irritated and narrowed. If this happens, your child may suddenly start to cough, have difficulty breathing, or sense a gradual worsening of asthma symptoms. This is usually called an asthma “attack.” During asthma attacks, the airways are more obstructed and the air flow is decreased. Signs of mild, moderate, or severe asthma attacks are described below.

  • Signs for a MILD asthma attack are:
  1. Breathing is mildly difficult.
  2. Breathing is slightly faster than usual.
  3. Speaking in complete sentences is still easily done.
  4. Mild complaints of wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, or tightness in the chest.
  5. Peak flow rate is 80% to 100% of the child’s personal best.
  6. No “drawing in” of muscles between the ribs is noticeable.
  7. Awareness of surroundings in normal and the child is alert.
  • Signs for a MODERATE asthma attack are:
  1. Breathing is moderately difficult.
  2. Breathing is faster than usual.
  3. Speaking is affected because of difficulty breathing (phrases or partial sentences are spoken).
  4. Moderate complaints of wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, or tightness in the chest.
  5. Peak flow rate is 60% to 80% of the child’s personal best.
  6. Slight to moderate “drawing in” of muscles between the ribs in necessary to breath.
  7. Awareness of surroundings is normal, and the child is alert.
  • Signs for a SEVERE asthma attack are:
  1. Breathing is extremely difficult.
  2. Breathing is very fast or very slow with a lot of distress.
  3. Speaking is affected because of difficulty breathing (single words or short sentences are spoken).
  4. Severe complaints of wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, or tightness in the chest.
  5. Peak flow rate is less than 60% of the child’s personal best.
  6. “Drawing in” of the neck, abdomen, and chest muscles is needed in order to breathe. Level of awareness has decreased (child may be drowsy, anxious, or irritable).

Information on this site is intended for Angel Kids Pediatrics patients only. Always consult your doctor before beginning, modifying, or discontinuing any treatment plan.

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