Asthma is a puzzle that is in the process of being solved. Scientists and health care professionals have made great strides in understanding and managing asthma. However, there is still much to be learned about exactly what causes people to develop asthma. There are several risk factors, some of which can be controlled, while others are completely dependent on genetics and illness. Asthma can be very distressing for parents and children.
Childhood Asthma Risk Factors
According to the American Lung Association, asthma is the most common chronic childhood disorder, and it affects approximately 7.1 million children under 18 years of age. The incidence of asthma in children has been growing worldwide, and no one completely understands why. However, scientists and doctors have developed a list of childhood risk factors. These include:
Genetic links: there is a strong link between genetics and a child developing asthma. There is a greater chance for a child to develop asthma if one or both parents have asthma and/or allergies.
Immune system and allergies: some children have an immune system that overreacts to things that do not bother other people. For instance, particles such as pollen, pet dander, and dust mites can be major asthma triggers. These particles are not dangerous of themselves, but can be extremely dangerous for a child who is sensitive to them.
Environmental causes: environment can have a major affect on the development of asthma in children. Many studies have confirmed this link, and have found that long-term exposure to chemicals, secondhand smoke, and air pollution can cause children to develop asthma.
Childhood illnesses: there is also a strong link between childhood illnesses and the development of asthma in children. Babies born prematurely often have lungs that are not fully developed, making them more prone to catching colds and other respiratory illnesses. Chronic respiratory illnesses can also damage lung tissues, making a child more prone to asthma.
Signs of Asthma in Children
Here are some signs to watch for that might indicate your child has asthma:
Chronic cough or frequent coughing spells that do not go away when treated
Lethargy, tiredness and weakness
Whistling sound when breathing (wheezing)
Pale skin color
Respiratory infection: an infection that has been treated for a long period and there is no improvement in breathing.
Seeing the Doctor
If you suspect your child has asthma, be sure to make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. You might also consider keeping a diary/journal of your child's symptoms. Journal entries should include the date, time of day, place, and symptoms your child has, along with what you believe set off the attack. A symptom journal can be a useful tool to help your doctor see what is happening during the course of a normal day. Your doctor will take down your child’s medical history and ask detailed questions about your child’s symptoms. Next, your doctor will perform a physical exam, and then will order some tests that might include a chest x-ray, a spirometry test (lung function test). Once your doctor has the test results, they will be able to determine if your child has asthma. If your child has asthma, the doctor will then determine the best course of action and medications to help your child to feel better.
Knowledge and Asthma Control
An asthma diagnosis can be scary for you and your child, but asthma does not have to be the end of a happy childhood. On the contrary, most kids grow up just fine and have happy childhoods and go on to be successful and well-adjusted teenagers and adults. The best way to help you and your child to cope with a diagnosis of asthma is to learn as much as you can about the disease, learn what triggers your child’s asthma, and how best to manage asthma and your environment. The goal is asthma control. Knowledge, along with management of asthma and the environment, will all help you and your child to achieve the goal of asthma control. Your child can go on to have a happy and normal childhood in spite of asthma.