It is thought that around 1 in 8 children living in the U.K. suffer from asthma. 80% of children who develop asthma do so before they reach 5 years of age. Children who are prone to allergies or where there is a family history of asthma are more likely to develop the problem.
There is no cure and the reasons why asthma occurs are unknown, although it is possible to identify a range of potential factors that can trigger an attack.
Standard symptoms may include wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. It is not always straightforward to diagnose asthma and it may be that the only sign of the problem is a cough.
The severity of the problem varies from child to child. Some children will have a mild form of the condition, while others may have a more severe form. Around two thirds of children grow out of the problem as they grow older.
Visit Your Doctor
The most important action is to bring the condition under control. The first step is a visit to your doctor if you think your child is showing any of the symptoms or you are in any way concerned that your child may have asthma.
A doctor will perform a number of breathing related tests to decide if a child is suffering from asthma. The main tool is the Peak Flow Meter. This measures how well a child is able to breath.
Once diagnosed, there are two main methods of treating the problem. These are medication and avoiding or minimalising triggers. Many people's asthma can be brought on by more than one trigger.
Common triggers include:
Cold dry air appears to cause the biggest problems. Therefore indoor sports, especially swimming reduce the risk of an attack. Wrapping the throat and chest up can help when playing sport outside. Warming up before exercise can help. Check with a doctor to see if your child should use an inhaler before exercise.
Not only can emotional issues such as crying trigger an attack, any emotional stress can increase the likelihood of an attack. Therefore if your child is going through a phase of attacks try and find out if there is anything else troubling them.
Cold air and fog is a common trigger. The onset of autumn normally sees an increase in the number of asthma attacks.
Coughs and Colds
A cough or cold can easily affect the lungs and tubes leading to them. It is therefore not surprising this can trigger attacks.
Nuts and shell fish are known to cause asthma attacks. Food additives can also cause problems.
The most common places for dust mites to congregate and trigger an attack are on bedding and soft toys. Use synthetic pillows and duvets. Wash them and soft toys regularly and be prepared to replace pillows every six months.
Cleaning Products, Solvents and Perfumes
Many cleaning products and solvents can give off strong fumes, as do perfumes. This can cause a tightening of the airwaves and cause an attack. Take care when choosing your cleaning products and watch out for any link between when they are used and when an asthma attack may start.
In a similar way to cleaning products the body reacts to high levels of air pollution. Check air pollution. On days when the pollution levels are high it can be sensible to avoid exercises that have been known to start attacks.
Having parents that smoke increases the chances of a child suffering from asthma. Cigarette smoke can trigger attacks.
Having pets can cause problems. Cats are said to be the worst type of pet for sufferers.
Pollen acts in a similar way to air pollution, so it may be best to avoid certain activities when pollen counts are high. You can also try keeping doors and windows shut on days when there is a high count.
Every asthma case is different. One child may have a different set of triggers and different severity levels to the next. Therefore it is important to learn as much about your own child's asthma as possible. Keep a chart to show when flare ups occur and the possible causes.
Work with your child to ensure they are taking their medication as and when prescribed by the doctor. Make sure a child is carrying their preventer with them at all times. Watch out for any changes in the condition and discuss them with a doctor. It is also well worth putting together an emergency plan. If necessary discuss this with your child's school.
The general heath of a child who is prone to asthma attacks is even more important. Make sure they eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep and rest. Make sure your house is kept as clean as possible, paying special attention to bedding and carpets.
Seek Urgent Medical Help
If your child suffers an asthma attack and you notice they are having difficulty talking, their fingernails are turning blue or grey, their nostrils are very wide, they are having problems walking, have a faster heartbeat or the skin around their neck or chest is being pulled in owing to the extra effort of breathing then seek medical help at once.
For more information take a look at this interactive guide to asthma: Asthma
The health section of Parenting.co.uk is not to be used as a substitute for your GP; if your child is ill then seek the advice of a qualified doctor or other health professional without delay.
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