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Asthma can cause breathlessness, coughing, and a feeling of tightness around the chest. It can also cause wheezing, which is a whistling sound in your child’s breathing. For some children, these symptoms only appear occasionally. For others, these symptoms may appear frequently or even seem to be there at a low level all of the time. The symptoms may get worse sometimes, at night or when your child has been running round or physically active. When the symptoms are triggered or they become temporarily worse, this is known as an asthma attack.
An asthma attack can be very serious. If your child doesn't get the right treatment quickly, a severe asthma attack could even be fatal. It is very important to seek medical advice if you suspect your child has asthma, even if they haven't had a bad attack, so that you can be prepared in case it happens.
Getting the right care can also help you to manage the condition more effectively. When asthma isn't managed well, it can cause problems such as tiredness, growth delays, and lung infections such as pneumonia. It can also be very stressful for both you and your child if you are experiencing frequent, potentially preventable asthma attacks and hospital visits that could have been avoided.
We don't know why some people develop asthma, but we do know that this condition seems to run in families. Your child is more likely to develop asthma if other people in the family have asthma too. Other conditions such as food allergies and eczema can also be associated with asthma.
When you have asthma, the bronchial tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs can become inflamed. The bronchial tubes swell up, which makes them narrower than usual, preventing air from moving freely. The bronchial tubes can also be clogged up with mucus. The inflammation and mucus production that causes asthma symptoms can be made worse by certain triggers. The triggers are different for everyone, but they often include exercise, cold air, smoke, and allergens such as animal fur, pollen and dust mites. Viral infections can also trigger asthma attacks and doctors often diagnose chest infections.
If you suspect that your child has asthma, it is important to see a doctor. Asthma requires careful management and it is vital that you know what to do in the event of a serious asthma attack. It is also possible that the symptoms are caused by another condition which needs to be treated. Coughing, wheezing and breathlessness could be associated with a chest infection or chronic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, rather than asthma. Your doctor will be able to make a diagnosis and advise on treatment.
Asthma can often be diagnosed based on the history of your child's symptoms. Your doctor may also want to carry out some simple breathing tests in order to rule out other conditions, although this isn't always possible in very young children. If your child is diagnosed with asthma, the doctor will help you to develop a personal action plan for managing the condition and tackling any asthma attacks.
Asthma treatment usually includes medication that is taken through an inhaler. You will need to learn how and when to use the inhaler. Older children will also need to learn how to use the inhaler themselves. Treatments for asthma include medications that act as symptom "preventers" and medications that acts as a symptom "relievers". Depending on your child's needs, he or she may need to use a preventer inhaler to reduce inflammation and a reliever inhaler that is used only when the symptoms flare up. It is essential for your family, your child’s school, and any other caregivers, to understand the treatments being used and be prepared for an asthma attack. You need to know what to do when the symptoms appear and you must always have an inhaler ready to use. It can also be important to identify any asthma triggers and to take steps to avoid them or remove them from the home.
Unfortunately, we do not yet have a cure for asthma. However, with the right treatment it is possible to reduce inflammation and to prevent and treat asthma attacks. Most children who are diagnosed with asthma will be able to lead full and active lives once the condition is under control. Some children will actually grow out of their asthma in time, but for others this can be a lifelong condition that will require careful management.