Awareness and Medications Can Help Children with Asthma Avoid the Worst Symptoms
When a child has an asthma attack, his or her airways become narrow and
inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. Asthma can be life threatening
and in 2014, children with asthma in Orange County made more than 3,000
visits to the emergency room, according to California Breathing, part
of the California Department of Health.
But parents are becoming more aware of its symptoms in their children,
and how asthma can be managed, says
Dr. Venessa Ferragamo Gutierrez, a pediatrician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Santa Ana.
And although there is no cure for asthma, getting children checked by a
pediatrician regularly can make all the difference in avoiding its worst symptoms.
What causes childhood asthma?
For some, asthma is inherited. “If there is a family history of asthma
on the mother’s side, then a child can be more predisposed to getting
asthma,” says Dr. Gutierrez.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exposure to air pollution or tobacco smoke,
as well as being male, black, or obese can increase the risk of a child
“Infants who suffer from respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, can
be more predisposed to getting asthma,” says Dr. Gutierrez.
What does asthma look like in children?
“The red flags are coughing and wheezing,” says Dr. Gutierrez,
whose asthma patients range from infants to adolescents. “In an
older child, it tends to be a night time cough or a cough that happens
with exercise. In little babies, the cough doesn’t go away.”
Children who have eczema or sensitive skin are prone to getting asthma,
she adds. “Many have that triad of sensitive skin, allergies and
asthma,” she says. “When children have that cross-over of
symptoms, allergies can trigger their asthma.”
When to go to the ER
How to tell if a child is having an asthma attack? One sign is “belly
breathing,” says Dr. Gutierrez — when a child has to use extra
abdomen muscles to breathe. “You see the tummy rise and fall, rise
and fall,” she explains. Another sign is very shallow breathing.
Medication called albuterol, administered through an inhaler, will open
up the bronchial airways so that normal breathing can be restored. Parents
of asthmatic children should have inhalers on hand and understand how
to use them. Side effects of albuterol can include shakiness and being
hyperactive, but these effects do not last long, says Dr. Gutierrez.
“Most times, the albuterol will work,” she says of children
having an attack. “They can use this medication every 4 to 6 hours
as needed to help relieve symptoms.” Sometimes, though, the constriction
is so severe that despite use of the medication, symptoms persist and
worsen. In this case, says Dr. Gutierrez, a child needs to be taken to
an emergency room.
Understanding what triggers an asthma and then keeping a child away from
those triggers whenever possible is critical.
Some culprits? Dust mites. “They live inside mattresses,” says
Dr. Gutierrez, “and can set off allergies, coughing and asthma.”
Dander from dog or cat hair can also exacerbate symptoms, she says. The
strong odor of cleaning supplies can irritate and inflame nasal passages,
can be yet another trigger, she adds.
A 2009 study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology showed
that fluctuations in humidity and temperature also trigger asthma attacks
that cause children to be brought to the ER.
Dr. Gutierrez is finding that parents are becoming more aware of asthma,
making it easier to treat her young patients. Long-term asthma control
medications can often keep symptoms at bay. And some kids outgrow asthma.
“But there is no telling which kids will or won’t outgrow
it,” Dr. Gutierrez says.
The most important thing to keep asthmatic kids safe? “Make sure
your child has an established close relationship with your pediatrician
and has regular visits,” Dr. Gutierrez says.
(This story originally appeared in OC Catholic, October, 2016)
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