Asthma isn’t just asthma. There are several different types, each provoked by different culprits, such as allergens and environmental triggers. Knowing which kind your child has can help you seek the most effective treatment.
Tracy Rife RN, BSN, AE-C, an asthma and Easy Breathing program coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital, offered the following overview of the different types, as well as what parents can do to help their children.
1. Allergic asthma
Triggered by allergic reactions, this type of asthma can be treated by avoiding allergens and using inhaled corticosteroids, depending on the severity of the asthma. Allergens may include pollens, pet dander, mold, roaches, and certain foods like gluten in wheat and casein in dairy products. To find out what’s causing the problem, an allergy specialist may conduct various tests, such as allergy sensitivity tests and food elimination diets.
2. Non-allergic asthma
Other things besides allergies may “trigger” asthma attacks. A patient’s triggers can be anything from upper respiratory infections to weather changes and strong smells. Treatment involves trigger avoidance when possible and daily use of inhaled corticosteroids, as directed by your child’s doctor. Some experts suggest eliminating certain foods known to cause inflammation.
3. Exercise-induced asthma
When children have this type of asthma, they experience coughing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing while exercising or playing sports. Symptoms usually improve when the physical activity is stopped. Using an inhaled bronchodilator medication (like albuterol) about 15 minutes before exercising is the typical treatment to open up airways. With proper treatment and medical oversight, even Olympic athletes with asthma are able to continue playing their sports.
4. Cold-air induced asthma
Like cigarette smoke and perfume, cold air can irritate the lungs of children who are sensitive to it. To lessen symptoms, have your child wear a scarf over her face during winter. This will warm the air warm that she breathes. In addition, have your child take a few slow breaths of cold air before outdoor playtime so that their lungs can adjust to it. For more ideas on managing this problem, talk with your asthma specialist.
5. Aspirin-Exacerbated Respiratory Disease (AERD)
Children who are sensitive to aspirin may develop a stuffy nose and sneezing that leads to wheezing and difficulty breathing. They may also have rhinitis and nasal polyps. Treatment includes aspirin avoidance or desensitization.
6. Cough-variant asthma
Characterized by a dry, hacking cough, this form of asthma is greatly underdiagnosed and undertreated. If your child has a persistent cough (sometimes accompanied by chronic rhinitis, sinusitis or heartburn), have them evaluated by a physician who can prescribe the right treatment, such as inhaled corticosteroids, which often relieve the problem. You may need to see a lung specialist for a definitive diagnosis.
7. Occupational asthma
If your child has a job, he may experience this form of asthma, which occurs when something at work sets off an asthma attack. Inhaled irritants like chlorine and smoke are common triggers. Make sure your teen is using his corticosteroid inhaler daily if one is prescribed. He may also need to find a new job that doesn’t expose him to these irritants. Workplace environments associated with occupational asthma include farms, hair salons, hospitals and painting studios.
8. Nocturnal (nighttime) asthma
If your child has asthma, there’s a higher chance their symptoms will occur at night, since asthma is greatly influenced by sleep-wake cycles known as circadian rhythms. Nighttime is the most dangerous time for asthma – perhaps due to the reclining position that exacerbates postnasal drip and coughing. If your child’s asthma symptoms worsen as the evening progresses, be sure to have an asthma doctor determine what’s causing the problem and how it should be managed.