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Approximately 6.8 million children have been diagnosed with asthma according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Asthma is one of the most common, serious, chronic diseases among children, accounting for 13 million absences from school each year. Some other statistics about childhood asthma include:
Although childhood asthma symptoms are the same as adult asthma symptoms, they may not be as noticeable and easy to detect. Wheezing, often a positive indicator of asthma, may not be as noticeable in a child with asthma as in an adult. However, most children who have asthma will cough - a common characteristic of asthma, regardless of age. If your child coughs after running or crying, or during the night, consult a physician for a diagnosis. Your child may have "hidden" (undiagnosed) asthma. Other childhood asthma symptoms may include the following:
The symptoms of childhood asthma may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Childhood asthma is caused by the child's genetic predisposition and allergies. The majority of children with asthma have allergies. Even exposure to low-grade allergens (those that do not cause significant allergic reactions) may increase the severity of a child's asthma. In addition, allergies may play a role in undiagnosed asthma cases.
The basic cause of the lung abnormality in asthma is not yet known, although healthcare professionals have established that it is a special type of inflammation of the airway that leads to the following:
It is important to know that asthma is not caused by emotional factors - as commonly believed years ago. Emotional anxiety and nervous stress can cause fatigue, which may affect the immune system and increase asthma symptoms, or aggravate an attack. However, these reactions are considered to be more of an effect than a cause.
As determined by the National Institutes of Health, the following is a guideline used by physicians to help determine the extent of asthma in your child. It is classified as "steps," because each child may step up or step down to different levels at any time.
The steps are as follows:
Exercise, such as running, may trigger an asthma attack in the majority of children with asthma. However, with proper management of the child's asthma, a child with asthma can maintain full participation in most sports. Aerobic exercise actually improves airway function by strengthening breathing muscles. Some tips for exercising with asthma include the following:
Although more than 6.8 million US children have been diagnosed with asthma, according to the CDC, many others who have asthma go undiagnosed. Children with undiagnosed or "hidden" asthma have symptoms that go undetected. The symptoms may cause a certain degree of airway obstruction (such as wheezing or breathlessness) that can only be detected with pulmonary function testing. If your child experiences frequent respiratory illnesses and airway obstruction, be sure to ask your child's physician about pulmonary function testing to diagnose or rule out asthma.
Currently, there is no cure for asthma. However, like adult asthma, childhood asthma can often be controlled with prescription medications that may help to prevent or relieve symptoms, in addition to education regarding the proper management of asthma.
Persons with asthma can learn to identify and avoid the things that trigger an asthma attack, and educate themselves about medications and other asthma management strategies.
According to the most recent Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma, published by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the four components of continually managing asthma include:
Working with a healthcare professional is the best way to manage asthma. With the establishment of an asthma management plan, a person with asthma becomes more educated about medications and other preventive measures. The more information a person with asthma has, the better asthma can be controlled.
The use of medications in children is highly individualized based on the severity of the child's symptoms, the age of the child, and the ability of the child to take inhaled medications. The following are the most commonly used medications:
How asthma will affect a child throughout his/her lifetime varies, depending on the child. Many infants and toddlers have an episode or two of wheezing during viral illnesses (cold, flu, etc.). However, the majority of these children do not go on to develop asthma later in life. For some children with persistent wheezing and asthma during childhood, the condition improves during the teenage years. About half of the children who have asthma at a young age appear to "outgrow" it, although the asthma symptoms may reappear later in life. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, asthma cannot be cured, but can be controlled during life with proper and adequate diagnosis, education, and treatment.
Some children with asthma may need to take their medications during school hours. It is important that the child, family, physician, and school staff all work together toward meeting the child's asthma treatment goals. To ensure optimal asthma care for your child at school, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends the following:
Preventing allergy-induced asthma attacks by avoiding triggers that cause the allergy may be complicated. Allergens that cause an allergic reaction can by anywhere, depending on your child's specific allergy. Triggers of childhood asthma may include:
Eliminating these allergens may include:
However, with proper management of the asthma, such as avoiding triggers, taking prescribed medications, monitoring for warning signs, and knowing what to do during an asthma attack, a child with asthma can conduct a healthy and active lifestyle.
Having asthma does not have to mean having less fun than other adolescents. However, if you are sensitive to certain allergens, such as cigarette smoke, perfumes, or after-shaves, be sure to tell your friends and dates in advance.
It is important to tell friends and dates what triggers the asthma, such as cigarette smoke or even perfumes or after-shaves, depending on your sensitivity. In addition, make sure to continue taking the asthma medication as prescribed. If you have exercise-induced asthma, you may need to take your preventive medicine before participating in any physical activities, such as dancing. Always consult your physician if you have questions about your asthma.
It is very important to be honest with your child about his/her disease, the severity of the disease, and the use of medications. Always remember as your child grows, independence is an important goal for a child. They do no want to be different, yet they will need guidance and supervision on any restrictions they might have.