Asthma in children
May the 1st marks World Asthma Day and the beginning of Asthma Awareness Week in the UK. Here, Asthma UK share the important information you need to know about your child and asthma. You can also download our how to spot asthma in a child guide.
What is asthma?
Children with asthma have airways that are extra sensitive to substances (or ‘triggers’) which irritate them. Common triggers include colds or flu, cigarette smoke, exercise and allergies to things like pollen, furry or feathery animals or house-dust mites. Everybody’s asthma is different and your child will probably have several triggers.
When the airways come into contact with an asthma trigger, the muscle around the walls of the airways tightens so that the airways become narrower. The lining of the airway swells and produces a sticky mucus. As the airways narrow, it becomes difficult for the air to move in and out of the lungs. That is why your child will find breathing difficult and you might hear a wheezing noise.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
The typical symptoms of asthma in young children are:
- Coughing, particularly at night and after exercise.
- Wheezing, or a whistling noise in the chest.
- Getting short of breath – perhaps your child is not running around as much as usual, or needs to be carried a lot.
- Feeling tight in the chest – sometimes children will describe this as their chest hurting or even a tummy ache.
What causes asthma?
We do not know the exact cause of asthma, but we do know that the tendency to develop asthma, often runs in families. The chance of a child developing asthma is higher if both parents have an allergic condition – such as asthma, hay fever or eczema. Smoking during pregnancy or exposing your child to cigarette smoke early on in life will increase their risk of asthma.
Sometimes, no matter how careful you are in making sure that your child takes their asthma treatment and avoids their triggers, you may find that they have an asthma attack. Your child is having an asthma attack if any of the following happen:
- Your child’s reliever does not help symptoms.
- Your child’s symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest).
- Your child is too breathless to speak, eat or sleep.
Most people find that asthma attacks are the result of gradual worsening of symptoms over a few days. If your child’s asthma symptoms are getting worse do not ignore them! Quite often, using their reliever is all that is needed to get their asthma under control again. At other times, symptoms are more severe and more urgent action is needed.
What to do if your child is having an asthma attack
- Give your child one to two puffs of their reliever inhaler (usually blue) through their spacer device
- Sit your child up and tell them to take slow steady breaths
- If there is no immediate improvement, continue to give them two puffs of reliever inhaler (one puff at a time) every two minutes. They can take up to ten puffs
- If your child does not feel better after taking their inhaler as above, or if you are worried at any time, call 999 for an ambulance
- If an ambulance does not arrive within ten minutes and your child is not feeling any better, repeat step 3.
For further information please visit asthma.org.uk or contact the Asthma UK Adviceline on 0800 121 62 44.
Download how to spot asthma in a child guide
Photography: Thomas Widmann @Flickr