For the 25 million people that suffer from asthma, the inability to breathe during an asthma attack can be scary and even life-threatening. Of the 25 million people with asthma, 7 million are children.
This means that 9 percent of children in the United States have asthma and the percentage is increasing every year. Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases of children under the age of eighteen.
Asthma is a chronic disease that causes inflammation in the airways of the lungs. During an asthma attack the muscles in the airways constrict and cause the airways to narrow, making it hard for air to pass into the lungs. The mucous cells also tend to secrete mucus which further blocks the airways from allowing air into the lungs.
Many children express their first symptoms by age five. Many infants and toddlers that have repeated respiratory infections, wheezing or coughing, will be evaluated for asthma but will not be diagnosed with asthma until after the age of six. This is because lung function testing is difficult to do before that age.
Children can have multiple symptoms including;
• Coughing spells at night or during strenuous activities e.g., laughing, crying or playing
• Rapid breathing or labored breathings
• Chest pain or chest tightness
• Wheezing when breathing in and out
• Shortness of breath
• Feeling weak or tired
• Chronic cough
• Not energetic during play time
The causes of asthma are not completely understood. However parents with asthma, or people of black or Puerto Rican heritage are more likely to have children with asthma. Viral infections or exposure to allergens in early infancy while the immune system is developing is another possible cause of asthma.
There are risk factors that increase the risk of asthma or make the episodes worse. A child born with a low birth weight is at higher risk. Low income or poor families or children with frequent respiratory infections are more likely to have asthma. Children with nasal allergies or allergic skin rashes are also at risk.