Childhood Asthma: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Childhood Asthma: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Childhood asthma is an extremely common occurrence. In 2011/12, 3.8 million Canadians had been diagnosed with asthma, an increase of 67% since 2000/01. The proportion of children living with asthma was on average 62% greater than the proportion of adults diagnosed. This post breaks down all information that parents, children, and teachers need to know about childhood asthma and what can be done about them.


What is Asthma?

From: Asthma Initiatives of Michigan

Asthma is a common chronic illness, mostly occurring in children, that leads to difficulty breathing. It is a result of bronchiole inflammation (narrowing of the airway) and increased production of mucus (which can block the airway). This can cause difficulty breathing, wheezing, or coughing. If these symptoms get worse this is known as an asthma attack. Common triggers of asthma include allergies, pollution, emotional distress, and extreme temperatures.


Childhood Asthma Symptoms

From: Verywell Health

If a child is experiencing an asthma attack the signs and symptoms may include:

  • Tightness of the chest
  • Difficulty breathing (wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, shallow breathing, or gasping for air)
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Sweating

What Causes Childhood Asthma?

Common triggers of asthma in children include:


How is Childhood Asthma Diagnosed?

If you suspect that your child has allergies contact your family doctor or pediatrician. They will be able to conduct a physical exam and choose an appropriate assessment to screen for asthma. The most common test used to detect childhood asthma is the spirometry test. It estimates the narrowing of bronchial tubes by checking:

  1. How much air you can exhale after a deep breath.
  2. How fast you can breathe out.

It can be used in combination with a bronchodilator, an inhaled medication that opens one’s airway. If there is a large increase in the amount of air a child can force out after taking the bronchodilator this is a likely indicator of childhood asthma. However, diagnosing asthma in children under 5 with spirometry is difficult. If this is the case, the doctor may ask about certain signs and symptoms and prescribes a bronchodilator if they suspect a child may have asthma.


Childhood Asthma Treatments

There is currently no known cure for childhood asthma. However, there are ways that one can help children manage the symptoms of asthma. This includes:

Teaching Avoidance of Asthma Triggers

Caretakers and teachers play an important role in helping children develop the knowledge and skills to deal with asthma. Children should learn from a young age what their specific asthma triggers are. They can then work with their parents to take an active role in avoiding these triggers. For example, if smoking is a trigger for allergies steps should be taken to avoid smoking near the child. By teaching the importance of avoidance from a young age we can minimize the risk it poses to a child’s health.

Taking Long Term Control Medication

Depending on the severity of asthma, children may be prescribed long-term control medications. If taken regularly this can be used to reduce inflammation and therefore narrowing, of one’s airways. Long term medications may include:

  • Corticosteroids: Anti-inflammatory medication that is inhaled
  • Leukotriene modifiers: Anti-inflammatory medication that is taken orally
  • Theophylline: A daily pill which relaxes airway muscles, but requires regular blood tests

Taking Emergency Short Term Relief Medication

In the case of an asthma attack, children will be prescribed a quick-relief medication, for example, an inhaler. If a child is experiencing an asthma attack the following steps should be taken:

  1. Assist the child into a comfortable sitting position (Leaning forward with arms resting on an object)
  2. Help the child administer their own medication (inhaler, pill, etc.)
  3. Loosen any tight-fitting clothing.
  4. Encourage purse-lip breathing (focus on getting air out)
  5. Provide reassurance to the child experiencing the asthma attack
  6. Contact emergency medical services if asthma is severe or continues for an extended period of time

Does Childhood Asthma Go Away?

While it is possible for the symptoms of asthma to go away, there is currently no evidence that the underlying cause of the condition will have changed. It is believed that these symptoms may go away with age due to the increased size of the bronchioles. As a child gets bigger their airways will increase in size which may allow the inflammation to go unnoticed.

There have been cases where asthma returns after a child has supposedly outgrown them. Currently, it is unknown why this occurs or who is more likely to experience a return of these symptoms.


Sources

The MasterStudent team believes in providing free, accurate, objective, and truthful information. This includes providing information that is well-sourced. Our writing team is not comprised of pediatricians, thus we encourage all readers to always check primary sources to help prevent the spread of misinformation and disinformation. The information regarding childhood asthma provided in this article was taken from the following sources.

  1. Lifesaving Society. (2017). Canadian Lifesaving Manual. W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library.
  2. Reber LL, Hernandez JD, Galli SJ. The pathophysiology of anaphylaxis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017Aug;140(2):335–48.
  3. Dougherty JM, Alsayouri K, Sadowski A. Continuing Education Activity.
  4. Sampson HA. Food allergy. Part 2: diagnosis and management. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 1999Jun 1;103(6):981-9.
  5. Allergies – Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Jan 30].
  6. Craig T, Ledford DK. Allergy and Asthma: The Basics to Best Practices. Mahmoudi M, editor. Springer;2019.
  7. Sinyor B, Perez LC. Pathophysiology of asthma. StatPearls [Internet]. 2020 Jul 10.
  8. Toskala E, Kennedy DW. Asthma risk factors. International forum of allergy & rhinology 2015 Sep(Vol. 5, No. S1, pp. S11-S16). Available from: doi: 10.1002/alr.21557
  9. Asthma- Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Apr 19].
  10. McCracken JL, Veeranki SP, Ameredes BT, Calhoun WJ. Diagnosis and management of asthma in adults: A review. Jama. 2017 Jul 18;318(3):279-90.
  11. Outgrowing Asthma: Is remission possible? [Internet]. WebMD. [cited 2022 Jan 30].

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