Asthma in children

Childhood asthma remains the most frequent chronic disease among children.

It is important for asthmatic children to be symptom free day and night in order to facilitate hobbies, sports, schooling and enjoying life like any other normal child.

More than 10% of school children have asthma
  • Asthma is the biggest cause of school absenteeism
  • Over a quarter of all asthmatics are children and adolescents
  • 50% of asthmatic children suffer from a severe attack each year
  • An asthmatic child is born every ten minutes
  • One asthmatic child out of two presents with his first respiratory episode before the age of two.
  • There is a strong possibility that a child who has more than 3 episodes of bronchiolitis before the age of two can develop asthma.

Symptoms of asthma in children

The symptoms of asthma in children are the same as those in adults, but typically a night time cough is often the only and most common symptom recorded. It is more difficult to diagnose children as they find it more difficult to describe their discomfort and for those under the age of 5 years, it is difficult to perform objective tests and measure their lung function.

To recap the symptoms can be;
  • A typical attack with wheezing and shortness of breath
  • A dry cough, especially at night.
  • Episodes of coughing after playing, exercise or sports
  • Repetitive bronchitis and chest infections
  • Breathlessness
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty walking for longer periods with a wheeze or breathlessness.

Getting a diagnosis early.

If you suspect your child has asthma then seek medical advice and assessment as soon as possible.

Many children grow out of their asthma, however, it is vital that treatment is implemented in order for your child to enjoy and live normally.

Children that are treated......

  • Takes part in most activities
  • Exercises and participates in sports
  • Does not miss school more than other school children
  • Enjoys playing with friends, hobbies and lives normally .

What to do if your child has an asthma attack

The more educated and informed you are about your childs asthma the more confident and able to cope with these attacks. Be prepared and always have spare inhalers to hand. Have contact numbers of your GP. With your asthma nurse or doctor write a plan of how to manage your child's asthma. It is useful that you know when to use reliever medication and when to start or increase preventer medication.
  • In an emergency or attack - you can give the blue reliever bronchodilator inhaler 15 to 20 times through a spacer. Give the doses slowly and calmly, always shaking the inhaler in between each dose and allow your child to breath in and out 3 - 5 times with each puff.
  • Reassure your child and it is crucial you remain calm. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CHILD. If possible or necessary take your child to a calm relaxing place as anxiety and panic with make their asthma worse.
  • Seek medial help urgently, Dial 999 and call for an ambulance, in the event of a severe attack, such as respiratory distress, unable to talk in sentences and medication not relieving shortness of breath and wheeze.

Sports and asthma

A child correctly and appropriately treated should be able to take part in most sports and hobbies. See sports and asthma section for more information

Repetitive episodes of bronchiolitis

A child who has more than 2 to 3 episodes of bronchiolitis before age 2 should receive the same treatment as an asthmatic child, especially if there is a family history of asthma and or an allergic background.

Children who have episodes of cough or repetitive bronchitis

These children need properly investigating and under the age of 5 need referral to a paediatrician.

Asthma in infants

  • Asthma can present in babies under the age of 2 and appear as wheezy episodes and chesty coughs and often require hospital admission.
  • The treatment of babies is the same as older children.
  • Not all babies end up with a diagnosis of asthma and often grow out of it later on, however, some will develop childhood asthma especially if there is a family history and or allergic background.

Risk factors of infant asthma developing into child asthma

  • Presence of eczema
  • Allergic family background
  • Positive allergies
  • Males more likely than females
  • Asthmatic mother

non exhaustive List

Asthma does not always disappear at puberty

Approximately half of asthmatic children will continue to have asthma into adulthood life and the other half will not. Regardless of this treatment remains the same and is essential in order for them to lead a symptom free life day and night.

Asthma and School

It is recommended for parents to meet the teaching staff at the beginning of the school year and ensure they are made aware of their children's asthma diagnosis. This facilitates a greater awareness amongst staff about asthma and prevents any confusion over the need for children with asthma to carry with them their medication at all times.

Remember people with asthma should be free of symptoms day and night and need to be able to access their medication at all times.
  • Tell school if there is a change in your child's asthma management and treatment.
  • Ensure school has a spare spacer and inhalers and that they are labelled with your child's name.
  • Draw up a management action plan with your GP or practice nurse. Let school have a copy. Management plans help engage children to take control of their asthma and look after themselves.
  • Education is vital to children taking control of their own asthma. The use of workshops, sketches, teaching posters, puppet shows, CD ROMs, is available and is aimed at young children and adolescents.

Networks and organisations which help asthmatics

There are many organisations which provide information for asthmatics and offer support and education for adults and children alike.

For more information

Asthma UK

British Thoracic society (BTS)

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