Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children, but it’s also manageable with the right remedies. There are medal-winning athletes who have suffered from asthma their whole lives.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee won three gold, one silver and two bronze Olympic medals – all while living with asthma. Your child may not want to be an athlete, but by understanding the disease a little better, you can help your child successfully manage it and maintain a healthy quality of life.
Causes of childhood asthma
If you had asthma as a child, there's a one in three chance your child will have it. If both parents have asthma, chances are seven in 10. Also, boys are more likely than girls to develop asthma in childhood. But outside of a possible genetic link, researches aren't entirely sure what causes asthma.
Symptoms of childhood asthma
The first signs of asthma in a child may occur after a respiratory infection, and may include wheezing. If the condition persists, more symptoms may develop and occur with regularity, including the following:
- Intermittent coughing
- Wheezing or a raspy sound to breaths
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trouble sleeping (and resulting fatigue)
If your child develops any of these symptoms, get to an ER right away or check with your doctor as soon as possible.
Treatments for childhood asthma
Although there is no cure for asthma, it is manageable. Work with your child's doctor to devise a treatment plan. One of the first steps you can take will be to help your child reduce exposure to his or her asthma triggers.
Medication treatments for asthma include long-term control medications that help prevent symptoms, and quick-relief medications that treat asthma attacks when they occur. Your child's treatment will depend on his or her unique symptoms and needs.
Long-term control medications are normally taken daily, and may include the following:
- Inhaled corticosteroids: The most commonly prescribed long-term asthma medication, they are associated with the fewest side effects and considered safest for ongoing use.
- Leukotriene modifiers: Taken orally to prevent symptoms for up to 24 hours, they carry risk of psychological side effects.
- Combination inhalers: These inhaled medications contain both a long-acting beta agonist (LABA) and a corticosteroid.
- Theophylline: A daily oral bronchodilator, it keeps the airways open. Doctors prescribe it less often now than in the past due to newer, more effective options.
Quick-relief asthma medications are taken when symptoms occur, and include the following:
- Short-acting beta agonists: These inhaled bronchodilators reduce symptoms within minutes.
- Ipratropium: An inhaled bronchodilator, it's mostly used for emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but doctors sometimes prescribe it to treat asthma flare-ups.
- Oral and intravenous corticosteroids: These medications reduce airway inflammation caused by severe asthma, but may cause serious side effects when used long term.
Tips for parents of children with asthma
As soon as your child is diagnosed with asthma, work with his or her doctor to create an asthma action plan that you and other caregivers, such as teachers, coaches, relatives and even the parents of your child's friends, can use to recognize aggravated symptoms and know how to respond to an asthma attack. As a “worst case scenario” part of your action plan, you should know where the closest ERs are, as well as how to get there.
After creating an action plan, the most important thing you can do to help your child manage his or her asthma is to remain calm and encouraging. Help your child focus on the positive, and don't let fear get in the way of encouraging your child to engage in regular activities.
Also, talk to the parents of other children with asthma. You can learn a great deal from one another and take your knowledge of managing childhood asthma to another level.