Asthma is considered to be a common lung condition in children and when left uncontrolled, it can lead to permanent lung damage. When a child is diagnosed with asthma, their lungs and airways usually become inflamed when they’re around allergens like pollen or if they catch a cold. The symptoms can sometimes get so bad that they can make your child difficult to carry on with their day-to-day activities, which even includes sleeping. 

While a sudden asthma attack can result in a short trip to the hospital, Consultant Paediatrician Dr Lini Balakrishnan of Motherhood Hospital, Bangalore helps parents understand more about how asthma can be controlled in children and steps to prevent damage to growing lungs.

1. What does it mean when a child is diagnosed with asthma?

When a child is diagnosed with asthma, the first thing for a parent to understand is that doctors don’t label them with a fixed diagnosis of asthma, they mostly use the word wheezing nowadays. That just means that your kids’ airways are more sensitive to environmental changes. Symptoms vary in kids ranging from mild wheezing to severe breathing difficulties, often leading to emergency hospital trips in rare cases.

2. How is it different from asthma in adults?

Asthma in children is a bit different from adults. Though the symptoms are similar, children are more likely to have intermittent symptoms. They have small breathing tubes and as a result, they can’t cough, spit and clear airways so kids have sudden attacks with environmental changes. But as they grow old, their airways turn bigger and the immune system gets adjusted to the environment and they mostly outgrow the situation.

3. Is it necessary for a child to undergo allergy testing under this circumstance?

Most attacks are triggered by weather changes, dust, dust mites, viruses and so on. Depending on the frequency of attacks, allergy tests are considered. Persistent symptoms throughout the year, severe attacks, concern from parents or clinician regarding a specific allergen all warrant allergy testing.

4. Is it safe for a child with asthma to play sports?

There is no restriction for children in participating in active sports as long as their wheezing is managed and under control. In fact being active, working out and playing sports, all help children with asthma to stay fit and maintain a healthy weight. It also aids in strengthening their breathing muscles to help their lungs work better.

5. What changes should a parent make at home to control their child’s asthma symptoms?

There are certain changes that parents should make at home to control their child’s asthma symptoms such as:

  • Check your home environment for asthma triggers: Dust mites, pollen, bird droppings (pigeons, cockroaches)
  • Keep detailed records: Number of attacks, symptom-free days, night symptoms
  • Use controller medications as prescribed: Mostly used are low dose inhalers, to be followed strictly as recommended by a paediatrician.
  • Learn to give medications correctly: Parents need to understand the correct technique, storage and cleaning of the inhaler and spacer.

6. Does having pets put a child at risk?

It’s not necessary that having a pet puts a child at risk. However, pet and pest allergens are a known risk factor for asthma flare-ups and more severe asthma in children if they are allergic to them and are present in the home. Exposure to these allergens, like dander and saliva from animals with fur or feather, can cause asthma symptoms and trigger an episode.

7. What are some of the treatments available to control asthma?

There’s no permanent cure for wheezing in kids, but management focus is in reducing or eliminating the symptoms and preventing ongoing airway inflammation. The main aim of medications is to help airways to heal without scarring so that they don’t become asthmatic as young adults.

Both clinical and at-home treatments are effective in managing childhood asthma. 

  • Clinical treatment includes medications like bronchodilators, which opens the airways and increase airflow and to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the airways.
  • Home treatment includes using a humidifier. It helps in maintaining relative humidity between 30 and 50 per cent which is essential for a child’s room because dry air may trigger asthma symptoms. 

8. Can you tell us a bit about the warning signs of an asthma attack?

Warning signs of an asthma attack include:

  • Difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath
  • Difficulty in performing normal daily activities, chest tightness or pressure, feelings of anxiety or panic, blue lips or fingernails, pale and sweaty face
  • In small kids, parents can notice night cough, fast breathing, persistent cough and vomit, and breathing difficulty at night

9. How to develop an ‘asthma action plan’ and how can parents talk to their child’s school regarding it?

An asthma action plan is a written management plan that you create with your child’s doctor to help control symptoms. It includes medicines to take in an emergency, a list of possible triggers, early symptoms and management and details mentioned about warning signs and requirements of emergency care.

Parents can provide an asthma action plan to their child’s respective school authorities so that when a child experiences these symptoms they can take reference from the plan and do the needful.

10. What are the ways in which parents can protect their child from being stigmatised because of asthma? Where else can support be found?

For most children with asthma, their symptoms can be controlled — sometimes so well that flare-ups are rare but the hardest part of asthma care is learning about asthma (what treatments to take, and what triggers to avoid and when). The best way to protect your child from being stigmatized from asthma is early detection of their allergies and cause. 

After the above, take proper precaution and recommendation from doctors and follow a routine for your child. Make them practise proper breathing exercises to strengthen and improve the functioning of their lungs. Support can also be found through expert paediatricians and their articles, and in books on childhood asthma.

Disclaimer: This is for the general information of the readers. Please consult a doctor for specific health concerns.