Have you been noticing that your child has been coughing or wheezing a lot more than usual? Is she struggling to breathe properly after vigorous exercise? If so, then your little one may be suffering from childhood asthma. Childhood asthma is very common condition amongst growing boys and girls. However, it can produce some very unpleasant and frightening symptoms, and, when uncontrolled, it can even be life threatening. Here are the important facts about childhood asthma and tips on how you can help your child if she is suffering from the disease.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects your airways. In order to breathe in oxygen, your body is equipped with a number of tubes that transport oxygen from your mouth to your lungs. When you have asthma, these airways become inflamed and swollen, which causes the airway to narrow significantly. As a result, less oxygen can be supplied to the lungs, making it difficult to breathe in and out. Asthma currently affects more than 20 million Americans, five million of whom are children. Every year, 300 children under the age of 18 die from the disease.

Is Your Child At Risk for Asthma?
All children are at risk for developing asthma. Childhood asthma can occur at anytime from infancy right up to age 18, however, the condition is generally diagnosed by age 5. In early childhood, asthma is more common amongst boys, but by the teenage years, girls and boys are affected equally. Additional risk factors include:

  • living in the city
  • having a family history of asthma
  • having a family history of allergies

What Causes Asthma?
Unfortunately, no one really knows what causes asthma to develop in children. Researchers only know that there appears to be certain triggers that cause the airway to constrict, exacerbating symptoms. These triggers include:

  • food allergies (including milk and peanuts)
  • pollen
  • dust
  • animal dander
  • mold
  • tobacco smoke
  • pollution
  • exercise

What are the Symptoms of Asthma?

Symptoms of asthma vary from child to child. Some children experience only mild allergies, while others will suffer more severely. Common asthma symptoms include:

  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • persistent coughing (particularly at night, in the morning, or after exercise)
  • tightness in the chest

Symptoms can be harder to detect in young children, but signs often include unexplained irritability, frequent chest colds, and rapid breathing. Most children will continue to experience some asthma symptoms through adulthood.

Asthma Attacks
Asthma attacks are often the scariest part of childhood asthma. An asthma attack occurs when symptoms begin very suddenly, often taking both child and parent by surprise.

During an asthma attack, the muscles surrounding your child’s airways can constrict significantly, making breathing very difficult. You may notice your child:

  • coughing a lot
  • flaring his nostrils
  • gasping for breath
  • sweating or turning pale

Most attacks last for only a minute or two. Some attacks can be quite severe though, and may require immediate medical attention.

Asthma Treatment

There are a number of things that you can do to help control your child’s asthma.

Remove Triggers
It is important to remove all triggers that appear to set off asthma symptoms in your child. Try to keep your home free of dust, mold, and pet dander. Be especially vigilant when it comes to keeping your child’s room free of these allergens. Also, minimize your child’s exposure to strong chemicals or scents, pollution, and second hand smoke.

Monitor Peak Airflow
You should help your child to keep track of her peak airflow on a daily basis. Peak airflow is a measurement of how well your child is breathing. All your child has to do is breathe as hard as she can into a small hand-held device. This device than provides a measurement of how fast air is moving through her airways. By keeping track of her best airflow measurement, you can help to monitor how your child’s asthma is progressing.

Look for Asthma Medication
Most children will require some sort of medical treatment for their asthma. Medical treatment helps to control symptoms on both a short-term and long-term basis. Medications include:

  • Quick Relief Medications: Quick relief medications help to provide immediate relief during an asthma attack. These medications are designed to work in a couple of minutes and can last for up to six hours. Most are inhaled through a small device, known as a puffer. Common puffer medications include albuterol and bitolterol. Be sure to teach your child how to use his puffer when he experiences symptoms of an attack.
  • Long-Term Medications: Long-term medications help to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms over an extended period of time. However, they do not provide relief for asthma attacks. These medications can be inhaled or taken orally, and may include corticosteroids and anti-inflammatories.