Asthma

Author: 
Adoptive Families Association of BC
Source: 
AFABC Special Needs Database

Description
Asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways, characterized by periodic attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. Asthma is a disease in which inflammation of the airways causes airflow into and out of the lungs to be restricted.

When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles of the bronchial tree become tight, and the lining of the air passages swells, reducing airflow and producing the characteristic wheezing sound, and mucus production is increased. Most people with asthma have periodic wheezing attacks separated by symptom-free periods.

Some asthmatics have chronic shortness of breath with episodes of increased shortness of breath. Other asthmatics may have a cough as their predominant symptom. Asthma attacks can last minutes to days, and can become dangerous, if the airflow becomes severely restricted.

Causes
Childhood asthma is a disorder with genetic predispositions and strong allergic component. What can trigger asthma?

  • Exercise such as running
  • Infections (respiratory infections)
  • Allergy (asthma symptoms of many children with asthma are triggered by allergies)
  • Irritants (cigarette, smoke, air pollution, aerosol sprays)
  • Weather (cold air can trigger asthma; however, there does not seem to be one "best" climate for all children with asthma)
  • Emotion (emotional stress such as anxiety, frustration, or anger can infrequently trigger asthma)

Characteristics
Wheezing:

  • Usually begins suddenly
  • Is episodic
  • May be worse at night or in early morning
  • Aggravated by exposure to cold air, exercise
  • Cough with or without sputum (phlegm) production
  • Shortness of breath that is aggravated by exercise

Emergency symptoms:

  • Extreme difficulty breathing
  • Bluish colour to the lips and face
  • Severe anxiety
  • Rapid pulse
  • Sweating

Treatment
Treatment is aimed at avoiding known allergens and respiratory irritants and controlling symptoms and airway inflammation through medication. Allergens can sometimes be identified by noting which substances cause an allergic reaction.

There are two basic kinds of medication for the treatment of asthma. The first is long-term control medication that is used on a regular basis to prevent attacks.  The second is quick relief (rescue) medications, used to relieve symptoms during an attack.

Complications

  • Respiratory fatigue
  • Pneumothorax
  • Side effects of the medication used

This resource is by no means intended as a substitute for a doctor's advice or diagnosis. Any concerns you may have with regard to your child's health and development should be discussed with a professional in an appropriate field.