According to the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) guidelines, around 300 million individuals worldwide including both adults and children are afflicted with asthma. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), India has around 15-20 million asthmatics. It is estimated that the prevalence of asthma in kids aged 5-11 years is between 10-15%.
Asthma is a chronic disease that usually starts early in childhood and can affect people at any age. The condition leads to an inflammation of the airways in the lungs, which affects the sensitivity of the nerve endings in the airways. This causes the airways to become easily irritated. So when a person comes in contact with a trigger, the lining of the air passages tends to swell, which narrows the airways and reduces the flow of air in and out of the lungs. This leads to difficulty in breathing and causes wheezing (breathing with a whistling or rattling sound).
Causes of asthma in children
There is no known way to identify the cause of asthma in kids. However certain studies have identified the factors that can increase the risk of asthma in children such as:
-A family history of asthma or allergies
-Exposure to secondhand smoke (smoke produced by burning tobacco or exhaled by a smoker) before, during or after birth
-Diagnosed with allergies (skin or food allergies)
-Frequent exposure to pollution and environmental toxins including dust, mist or pollens
-Viral infections when young
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Symptoms of asthma in children
Most kids with asthma may not show any signs or symptoms of the condition for a long time or until they have an asthma attack. Moreover, in most cases, the symptoms of asthma in children can be confused with other respiratory illnesses. Hence, the diagnosis of asthma in kids is quite difficult and is based merely on the symptoms.
The symptoms of asthma in kids might be the same as that seen in adults. Asthma is characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing which varies in severity and frequency. However, in some kids, chronic cough could be the only symptom of asthma.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, here are the common signs and symptoms of asthma in children.
-Frequent coughing which becomes worse following a trigger like playing outdoors or after exposure to cold air.
-Constant coughing that worsens at night
-Coughing following a viral infection
-Wheezing (whistling sound) when the kid exhales
-Shortness of breath
-Rapid breathing which is aggravated by exercise
-Feeling of tightness in the chest
-Fatigue or lack of energy
-Difficulty in sleeping due to a cough or breathlessness
When to go to a doctor?
Although asthma cannot be cured, the right diagnosis can help you treat and manage the condition. You should consult a doctor, if you or your child experience any symptoms of asthma or if these symptoms appear:
-Early in the morning or worsen at night
-During or after playing or exercising
-During changes of seasons (especially in cold weather)
-After crying or laughing
-On exposure to certain triggers such as smoke, dust, or mist.
Asthma if left uncontrolled can cause permanent damage to the lungs, and hence proper treatment and management is needed to control asthma in children.
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Childhood Asthma. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Asthma in children. Diseases & Conditions. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
Van Aalderen WM. Childhood asthma: diagnosis and treatment. Scientifica (Cairo). 2012;2012:674204.
Guilbert TW, Bacharier LB, Fitzpatrick AM. Severe asthma in children. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2014 Sep-Oct;2(5):489-500.
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