Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease in which the airways become sensitive to allergens or irritants. When the airways are exposed to such substances, the lining of the air passages become swollen and inflamed. In addition, the muscles around the airways tighten and there is an increase in mucus production in the lining. These factors narrow the passage of air in and out of the lungs and cause an obstruction in breathing.

Although asthma can affect people of all ages, it is one of the most common chronic condition among children. More than 77 percent of children below the age of 6 years present symptoms of asthma. While the severity and type of symptoms may differ from child to child, here are the most common ones to look out for:

  1. Recurrent or persistent non-productive cough with or without breathlessness
  2. Wheezing
  3. Difficulty in breathing, especially while exercising, laughing or crying
  4. Tightness in the chest
  5. Runny nose

There are certain risk factors that have been linked to childhood asthma such as:

1. Family History

Genetics play an important role in the development of asthma. Studies have shown that over half of the children who are diagnosed with asthma have a family history of the same condition. You are 3 to 6 times more likely to develop asthma if you have a parent with asthma. 

2. Atopy

Atopy is defined as a tendency to become sensitized and produce IgE antibodies when exposed to allergens, usually proteins. This could be a personal or familial issue and could develop either in childhood or adolescence. The development of atopic dermatitis (eczema) in infancy and subsequent allergic rhinitis and asthma in later childhood is known as the atopic march. Studies have shown that only about 60 percent of children have only asthma. A quarter of them have asthma and rhinitis. Nearly 10 percent of them have asthma and eczema while another 10 percent have all 3 atopic diseases.

3. Frequent Respiratory Infections

Respiratory tract infections caused by both viruses and/or atypical bacteria are involved in the pathogenesis of asthma. In particular, several viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human rhinovirus (HRV) and influenza/parainfluenza viruses are known to be linked to asthma. A recent study revealed that children who develop RSV at the age of or above 6 months have the highest risk of developing severe asthma as compared to those who have RSV at a younger age.

4. Exposure To Tobacco

Studies have shown that children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are 10 times more likely to develop asthma. Exposure to secondhand smoke is also dangerous for infants and children as their lungs are smaller and still developing. It can lead to decreased lung function and airway inflammation in children.

Asthma is a lifelong condition. Once a person’s airways become sensitive, they remain that way for life. However, as a child grows older, they may be able to handle airway inflammation and irritants better and may show decreased symptoms. About half of these children will develop symptoms again in their 30s or 40s.

Although asthma is a long-term disease, it can be kept under control. There are 2 main aspects to the management of childhood asthma:

1. Medication

The best way to take asthma medication is via inhalers. Unlike oral tablets and syrups, these devices deliver the drug directly to the lungs, without needing to be ingested or absorbed into the bloodstream.

Generally, the doctor will prescribe 2 kinds of inhalers – a controller and a reliever. Controller inhalers protect your child's air tubes by making them less sensitive to asthma triggers which cause coughing and breathing difficulties. These are to be taken daily. Reliever inhalers provide quick relief from the symptoms of asthma by helping the air tubes to open wider so that air can flow more easily. This type of inhaler should only be taken when your child suffers from coughing and breathing difficulties. Ensure that your child has his/her reliever inhaler handy at all times in case they need it. 

2. Avoidance Of Triggers

Asthma attacks can be brought about by many triggers. Common indoor triggers include pet dander, dust mites and mold, whilst outdoor factors like weather, pollen count and pollution can also exacerbate the symptoms of asthma. It is important to identify your child’s triggers and avoid them as much as possible.

With the right care and treatment, you can keep your child’s asthma under control and ensure that they lead a normal life.