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Today in Health & Wellness

Breathe Easy: Managing Asthma in Children

By: Risa Caldoza-De Leon MD, FPAPSHPIBreathe Easy: Managing Asthma in Children

It’s not easy being wheezy, just ask the parents of two of 10 Filipino children suffering from asthma. This disease of the lungs is the most common chronic disease of childhood, and for unknown reasons, the number of those affected continues to rise. According to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), 9.2 million children younger than 18 years of age have been diagnosed with asthma in their lifetime. This translates to 3 asthmatic students in a classroom of 30. Asthma is the main reason why kids miss school.

Experts are still baffled and don't know what causes asthma. They do know that there are many risk factors for developing childhood asthma. These include:

  • Nasal allergies (hay fever) or eczema (allergic skin rash)
  • A family history of asthma or allergies
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Low birth weight
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke before or after birth
  • Black or Puerto-Rican ethnicity
  • Being raised in a low-income environment

Sadly, most asthmatic kids have symptoms before they turn five. Remember that any asthma symptom, whether mild or severe, is always serious and may be life threatening. These symptoms include:

  • A chronic cough (which may be the only symptom)
  • A wheezing or whistling sound, especially when breathing out
  • Trouble breathing or fast breathing that causes the skin around the ribs or neck to pull in tightly. These seesaw motions in the chest from labored breathing are called retractions.
  • Frequent colds
  • Complaint of chest tightness or chest "hurting"
  • Less energy during play, feeling of weakness or tiredness
  • Shortness of breath, loss of breath

There is good news though. Half of asthmatic children notice fewer asthma symptoms by the time they become teens, therefore appearing to have "outgrown" their asthma. Some, however, will develop asthma symptoms again as grown-ups.

Unfortunately, asthma cannot be cured, only controlled. Doctors will prescribe medications based on your child’s history and how severe the symptoms are. Your pediatric pulmonologist, the asthma expert, may give your child inhaled asthma drugs or liquid medications delivered with an asthma nebulizer, or low-dose inhaled steroids.

Seeing your kids gasping for breath is scary and challenging, but there are a number of strategies you can follow to help them make their lives easier (and yours too!).

  • Keep an asthma diary. Take notes about the days and times your child suffers attacks to discover what triggers your child's asthma.
  • Keep necessary medications on-hand. Most asthmatics can get quick relief from “rescue” inhalers.
  • Keep pets out of the house. Cat dander (tiny flakes from a pet’s skin) is a common trigger for asthma.
  • Identify environmental triggers. The usual culprits are dust, pet dander, mold, tobacco smoke, and certain food.
  • Keep your indoor environment clean. Remove carpets, mop and vacuum once or twice a week, ad wash beddings and stuffed toys in hot water every week.
  • Breastfeed for at least four to six months, and longer if possible, to strengthen your baby's immune system.
  • Help them maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is linked to asthma symptoms and to a higher risk of being hospitalized.
  • Keep your child involved. When your child understands his condition, he will be more motivated to take care of himself.
  • Minimize use of antibacterial products and antibiotics. Many experts believe that reliance on these has caused our immune system to develop in ways that make allergies and asthma likely to happen.
  • Know when to seek emergency care. If your child is having trouble breathing, have a bluish color to his lips or face have a rapid pulse is rapid and he is sweating or seems confused, this is an emergency! 
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