Asthma

Asthma is a common condition of the airways that is caused by narrowing of the small air passages in the lungs (bronchi). The airway muscles tighten and the lining swells producing mucus.  The swelling of the airways makes it difficult for air to get through, this causes wheezing, coughing and problems with breathing.

It can be surprising to learn that one in four children will suffer from asthma. Asthma can occur in young children, however it is difficult to diagnose in children under the age of one. 

Causes of Asthma

The actual cause of asthma is not known, however it is believed that there is a link between both genetics and the environment.  It can also be related to other conditions such as allergies, eczema and hayfever.

Common triggers of asthma include:    

airways swollen

  • Viral infection such as the common cold. 
  • Cigarette smoke.
  • Pollens, mould and dust mites.  
  • Changes in weather.
  • Exercise.
  • Pets.
  • Knowing the trigger can help your child avoid asthma.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Wheezing (sounds like a whistle).
  • Coughing, which usually happens at night or in the early hours of the morning (when the weather is cooler) or during exercise.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Tight feeling in the chest.
  • Getting more puffed than usual when running and playing.
  • Becoming tired quickly.

Treatment

Asthma can be well controlled by two types of medication: Relievers and Preventers.  With good treatment most asthma attacks can be managed at home.

If your child has asthma, your doctor should provide an asthma action plan for them. This plan informs you how to prevent attacks and how to care for your child when they have an asthma attack.

Relievers

Relievers help during an asthma attack and rapidly open the narrow airways. A common reliever is Ventolin, which is a bronchodilator and makes it easier for the air to get through by narrowing the airways. These medications are effective when inhaled.  Your child may require Ventolin every 2-4 hours to treat an acute asthma attack.  If your child requires it more often you should seek medical advice.

Prednisolone is another treatment that is a steroid. It can be prescribed to reduce swelling of the airway lining and helps the airways responsiveness to Ventolin. Prednisolone is given in either syrup, or tablet form, and taken usually between 2-4 days.

Preventers

Preventers are also usually inhaled and prevent attacks from occurring. Flixotide and Pulmicort are two types of preventers. Preventer medication is taken every day. Not all children require a preventer.

These medications are given through a spacer, which allows the child to breath the medication deeply into their lungs effectively reducing the amount of medicine at the back of the throat.

If your child is having difficulty breathing or is unable to talk they should be taken to the emergency department.

Key points to remember

  • Make sure your child has their asthma medication at all times.
  • Make sure your child learns how to take their asthma medication.
  • Follow your child’s asthma action plan.
  • Provide your child’s asthma action plan to their carers.
  • Call 000 and seek medical help if your child is having difficulty breathing, unable to talk, turning blue when coughs.
  • Seek medical help if you are concerned.