toddler boy using an inhaler

Asthma in Children

Mel Hendrickson and Kelsey Rinzel

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the airways. In children, it is the leading cause of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and missed school days. Asthma can be a life threatening disease if it is not properly managed.

Symptoms of Asthma

  • Frequent coughing spells which may occur at night, during play or while crying or laughing.
  • Rapid intermittent breathing.
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Whistling (wheezing) sound when breathing in or out
  • Shortness or loss of breath
  • Less energy during the day
  • A chronic cough
  • Feelings of weakness or tiredness

Asthma Attacks

Asthma attacks occur when there is a sudden worsening of asthma symptoms caused by constricting muscles around the airways, also known as a bronchospasm. When a child is having an asthma attack, the lining of the airways becomes swollen and thick mucus is produced, making it extremely difficult to breathe. Asthma attack symptoms can worsen and become severe, so if asthma treatment is not available or not working, a child should be taken to the doctor or emergency medical facility right away. Some symptoms of an asthma attack include:

  • Intense wheezing when breathing both in and out
  • Coughing that won’t stop
  • Very rapid breathing and/or heart rate
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic
  • Extreme difficulty breathing
  • Pale, sweaty face
  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Symptoms that worsen even after medication is used

What Causes Asthma?

It isn’t clear why some children have asthma and others don’t, but it tends to be due to a combination of inherited and environmental factors. Health issues or exposure to certain allergens can trigger asthma symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common triggers of asthma are:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Dust mites
  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Stress
  • Insects in the home
  • Furry pets
  • Mold in the home
  • Illnesses (respiratory or other)
  • Physical exercise
  • Airborne allergens like pollen
  • Cold air

Secondhand smoke poses a real threat to a child’s respiratory health. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure and here are just a few reasons why:

  • Asthma attacks are the #1 health effect of secondhand smoke exposure among children.
  • Maternal smoking, both during and after pregnancy, is significantly related to lifetime breathing problems for children.
  • Secondhand smoke exposure causes children who already have asthma to experience more frequent and severe attacks.
  • Secondhand smoke increases the risk of children developing pneumonia, bronchitis or other respiratory problems.

Medical Care and Treatment

If you suspect your child has asthma, or he exhibits any of the symptoms listed above, take him to the doctor as soon as possible. Early treatment will help control daily asthma symptoms and may also prevent asthma attacks. If your child is diagnosed with asthma, your doctor will determine the best treatment depending on age and will prescribe medication or an inhaler if necessary. It is important to create an “asthma action plan” for your child to help yourself and other caregivers monitor your child’s asthma symptoms and know what to do in the case of an asthma attack. Even if your child does not have asthma, you should always seek medical treatment if he is having trouble breathing.

Do you have a child with asthma? If so, share your experience in the comments below.

Mel Hendrickson is the Director of Health Services and Pediatric Registered Nurse at Penfield Children’s Center. She has experience working with the pediatric population in Community Health, Inpatient care and Critical care. She is certified in Pediatric Advanced Life Support and Neonatal Resuscitation. She is also on the Nursing Advisory Board at Bryant & Stratton College.

Kelsey Rinzel is a Pediatric Registered Nurse who cares for children in the Special Care Nursery and Medical Daycare programs at Penfield. She also addresses the health and wellness needs for all of Penfield’s in-center children. She is passionate about kids, and loves her job!

“Childhood Asthma.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

“Symptoms of an Asthma Attack.” WebMD. WebMD, LLC.

“What is an Asthma Attack?” WebMD. WebMD, LLC.

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