It’s a sunny afternoon, and you’re watching your child and his friends scurry around in a game of tag. Your child, however, isn’t laughing or having fun. Instead, he’s hunched over, hands on knees, relentlessly coughing and struggling to catch his breath.
“Coughing and wheezing are tell-tale signs a child may be suffering from asthma,” said Wilfredo Veloira Jr., MD, Pediatric Pulmonologist with Avera Medical Group Pediatric Specialists Sioux Falls. “The signs of asthma appear during the first year of life, when parents may notice excessive coughing, abnormal breathing and wheezing.”
In the U.S. alone, 7 million children under the age of 18 have asthma. That’s about one in 10 children.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease in which the airways narrow, swell and become irritated in response to various stimuli. Not only do the muscles surrounding the airways tighten, but excess mucus clogs the airways further — making breathing nearly impossible.
The result is an asthma attack, characterized by coughing, a wheezing or whistling sound, and chest tightness. (If your child is having difficulty breathing, but doesn’t have a treatment plan to manage the symptoms, get medical help immediately.)
A wide range of factors can cause an asthma attack. “Common triggers include tobacco smoke, incense and perfumes, cold air, mold, and allergies to cats, dogs and pollen,” listed Veloira. “Viral infections, exercise and even emotions can induce an asthma attack in those with hypersensitive airways.”
The best way to manage asthma is through medication and eliminating exposure to allergens and airborne irritants.
In general, there are two categories of asthma medication: fast-acting medications that relieve asthma attacks and long-term medications that help control symptoms and prevent asthma attacks from occurring. Medications are typically delivered through an inhaler.
“The goal of these medications is to keep airway inflammation and hyper-reactivity to a minimum,” explained Veloira. “They may also help reduce the child’s sensitivity to triggers.”
Asthma doesn’t exactly disappear when a child grows and gets older. With larger lungs and less sensitive airways, asthma can lie dormant in the body, yet reawaken under the right conditions. That’s why proper management is important for long-term success.
“If your child is experiencing any sort of irregular breathing patterns, we are happy to see him or her,” said Veloira. “Children should be outside playing and laughing. When asthma is managed effectively, there can be more of what’s important.”