Childhood asthma is a common condition. This page has information on what causes the symptoms, the trigger factors for asthma, as well as information on preventing attacks.
To read about the medications given for asthma, click here
This page deals mainly with asthma in toddlers and older children. For information on infants less than 2 years who wheeze, click here.
Childhood asthma, like asthma in adults, affects the medium and small airways (air tubes) which are known as bronchi. There is inflammation that means the airways react to certain triggers and become narrow. The narrowing of the airways makes it hard to air carrying oxygen to get to the lungs and this causes difficulty breathing and a tightness in the chest.
The tightness in the airways means that there is usually wheezing which is a whistling noise when the child breathes out. The airways in asthmatic children respond to drugs called bronchodilators which open them up again - read more
There are 3 main reasons the airways become narrow in childhood asthma, causing the difficulty breathing.
The underlying mechanism is inflammation of the airways and this causes:
The main reason children get asthma is because it runs in the family. We call families with a tendency to asthma and other allergic diseases, like eczema and hayfever, atopic families or say they have atopy.
Childhood asthma is also becoming more common even when there is not a strong family history. This is probably because of the lifestyle we have in developed countries. Factors such as pollution and spending more time inside at computers and television may contribute to this tendency.
The main triggers that cause the airways to narrow in childhood asthma are:
No, just because your child has wheezy episodes it does not mean she has childhood asthma.
A large American Study (the Tucson Children's Respiratory Study) found that:
What this means is that a lot of children with wheeze stop wheezing and don't get childhood asthma, particularly if they are wheezing before the age of 3 years.
This is why some doctors are reluctant to call wheezing in infants and young toddlers asthma - they just call it wheeze or viral-induced wheeze - read more.
I tend to call it childhood asthma if a child is over the age of 2 years and still has wheeze that responds to treatment. Of those children, I know a lot will grow out of the tendency to have asthma and most of them will not have adult asthma.
You can't say for sure but the group of children who still wheeze at the age of 6 years and are more likely to have adult asthma are those:
There are no tests that can be used easily in pre-school children so doctors rely on the history of asthma symptoms in the child and how they respond to treatment.
Older children may use a peak flow meter or do formal lung function tests. Young children cannot manage these tests usually.
In most cases, childhood asthma is not caused by a food allergy.
Children who have asthma often have an atopic tendency so they can be allergic to food as well- read more.
Some children get asthma as a symptom of the allergy so an infant who is allergic to milk might get asthma symptoms when she has milk. In these cases, it is usually clear that the food has caused the asthma and it should then be avoided.
In many children, house dust mite, which are present in the normal dust we all have in our houses, cause asthma symptoms. If your child has an allergy to house dust mite, which can be shown with skin prick tests, you can try to reduce house dust mites but there is no evidence that doing so will reduce asthma symptoms. Read more
There are a number of measures that reduce house dust mite:
However, as already stated, a review of the literature has found no evidence that any of these measures work in reducing asthma symptoms. So, do not spend a lot of money trying to reduce house dust mite.
No. The important thing is to manage the asthma and let your child partake in all the normal childhood activities. To read more on asthma management, click here.
Swimming is a good sport for childhood asthma sufferers as it helps breathing.
No. Being exposed to pets, particularly dogs, in the first year of life may actually help prevent wheeze and asthma.
However, some asthmatic children will be sensitive to pets and if that is the case, you will see the symptoms increase as there is more contact with the pet. You might have to find a new home for your pet if this is the case with your child.
In children with high risk for childhood asthma, such as having asthma and allergy in the family, there is some evidence that the following reduce the chances of developing asthma:
So, you as a mother can stop smoking, breast-feed your child and keep dust in your house to a minimum.
Last reviewed 8 July 2012
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