What is Childhood Asthma?

by Katelyn Schwanke
(last updated September 5, 2008)

Childhood asthma differs from adult asthma only in that its onset is between birth and age 18. Each year an estimated 4 million children under the age of 18 years experience an asthma attack. Although this disease is common and incurable it is controllable for most people who are diagnosed. It is important for both you and your child to understand what well managed asthma looks like and what causes it. Follow this discussion by developing a plan for your child to reach a stage of asthma where there are few to no symptoms or attacks.

Children with well managed asthma have few to no symptoms, no limitations on physical activity and no side affects from use of medication. Your child should be relatively free from wheezing, excessive coughing and sneezing and be able to avoid tightness in the chest and dizziness. Your treatment plan for reaching these target goals includes medication that prevents attacks and medication that acts to stop attack once one has begun.

Explain to your child that asthma attacks can be induced because of exercise, exposure to allergens (animal dander, grass, pollen, certain foods) or highly stressful situations. Help your child understand how to avoid situations that cause them to have attacks (i.e. teach them how to communicate with friends who have pets or physical education teachers who insist they perform rigorous physical activities). Your doctor can help you to identify the things that trigger asthma attacks in your child specifically. Follow this conversation with an explanation of what asthma does to the human body. Explain that the important tubes in your lungs that transport air to the body to keep it healthy become inflamed and unable to transport the necessary amount of oxygen.

After you feel that your child understands what triggers their asthma and why it happens, sit down and write down a plan for what your child will do if they are away from home and have an attack. Make sure that the child has contact numbers, stays around people if an attack occurs and has been properly instructed on how to use an inhaler prescribed by the physician.

If your child has not been diagnosed with asthma, there are a few risk factors for childhood asthma that you should be aware of. Exposure to tobacco smoke, previous allergic reactions (resulting in skin rash), low birth weight, and obesity are all risk factors. Some of these risk factors are preventable (exposure to tobacco smoke and obesity) but unfortunately some are out of your control. Speak to your doctor about these risk factors so that he can periodically check your child for symptoms of asthma.

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