Most people know that asthma is a breathing problem. But do you understand exactly what it is, what causes it and how a person develops it?
Like any medical condition, once you understand the source of the problem and the basics of how it affects your body, it’s easier to diagnose and manage it.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 7 million American children have asthma, making it one of the leading causes of school absences,” said Tracy Rife, RN, BSN, AE-C, asthma and easy breathing program coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Asthma is a condition that runs in families, with cases split between genetic and environmental causes. While there is no cure for asthma, it can be treated and managed effectively.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a medical condition characterized by inflamed airways (bronchial tubes). During inflammation, the airways may produce extra mucus and become swollen. Narrowed airways can lead to breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
There are 2 kinds of asthma:
- Allergic asthma, which is caused by allergen exposure
- Non-allergic asthma, which is triggered by stress, exercise, illnesses (such as colds or the flu), or exposure to cold weather, irritants in the air and certain medications
For most children, asthma is a minor annoyance. But for others, asthma can interfere with daily activities like going to school and participating in sports. Some children are even faced with life-threatening attacks.
Since asthma often changes as children grow, it’s important to keep track of signs and symptoms and to work closely with your child’s doctor to keep the condition manageable.
What Causes Asthma?
Although we don’t entirely understand why some people get asthma, it’s likely due to a combination of genetic (inherited) and environmental factors, such as airborne irritants.
What Are Risk Factors for Asthma?
Your child’s chances of developing asthma may be higher if they:
- Have a blood relative with asthma
- Have an allergic condition like atopic dermatitis or hay fever (rhinitis)
- Are overweight
- Are exposed to secondhand smoke
- Are exposed to pollutants like exhaust fumes and chemicals used in farming
What are the Symptoms of Asthma?
A child with asthma typically has the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
Wheezing may sound like a whistling or squeaky noise that occurs when your child breathes. If your child experiences the above symptoms, consult with your pediatrician. If your child requires more than two albuterol treatments for symptoms (such as two doses of an inhaler) a week, it’s recommended that you take them to a pediatric allergist or pulmonologist.