Parents are mystified by the term asthma. It is important to understand asthma, because it is the most common chronic respiratory disease in children and adolescents. Asthma effects the bronchial passages of the lungs. When an asthmatic child is affected by this condition, the bronchial tubes become narrow, making it difficult to breath. This happens because small muscles surrounding the bronchial passages constrict, the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes swollen and extra mucus blocks air flow.

Many different symptoms can appear, if asthma is active in your child. Some children have the feeling of tightness or pain in the chest as they breathe. Some children with a mild but persistent form of asthma, can appear fatigued. They show signs of strain and working to breathe. Other children may have only a nighttime cough lasting for weeks or months. Some others will cough with play or exercise.

As I mentioned, cough is an important sign in asthma. The term “attack” is often used to describe fierce bouts of coughing, making it difficult to breathe. In some cases, coughing is almost absent. The strained effort to force out air trapped in the lungs, produces an unique sound called wheezing. Many different factors can start the symptoms of asthma.

In children, infections are the most common trigger. Asthma and allergies are often used interchangeably with each other, but they are not the same. Allergies are reactions to foreign substances like house dust, animal dander, pollens, molds, medications, and foods. These substances cause the body to produce histamines, which are chemicals that produce swelling, redness, itching and irritation. Not all allergic children have asthma, and many asthmatics are not allergic.

Changes in temperature or weather can start the symptoms of asthma. Exercise can also bring on the symptoms of asthma. Certain types of exercise seem to be tolerated easily like swimming, whereas long-distance running and basketball seem to be tolerated less. Irritants very commonly cause a child’s asthma. Cigarette smoke, chemical sprays, air pollution, gasoline, and perfumes are examples of irritants that can cause a child’s wheezing or cough.

Emotions can play a role in causing an asthma attack, but this can easily be over-played as a cause of asthma. Some asthmatics will develop complications with their asthma, although most problems can be avoided, if asthma is managed appropriately. Many asthmatics have secondary infections like ear and sinus infections. Pneumonia can develop if the symptoms go untreated.

The diagnosis of asthma is customarily made from the symptoms present, and the medical history of the child and family. Sometimes chest and sinus X-rays are valuable to determine if an infection exists. Sinusitis may hinder the rapid resolution of symptoms. Pneumonia can produce the same symptoms as asthma.

When a strong allergy history is present, allergy testing can help determine the cause of asthma. This testing is usually restricted to children over 5 years, because the results are not specific or dependable for children under 5. There are many effective treatments for asthma. If any symptoms of asthma are present in your child, an office visit is recommended.

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