It is frightening for a parent to watch her child struggling to breathe; understanding the triggers and causes of childhood asthma can help alleviate symptoms.
Symptoms vary and can appear as young as 6 months old or as old as the early teen years. Children with asthma tend to ‘grow out’ of the disease slowly and it may disappear by the age of 20 years, though relapses can occur later on.
A recent medical study suggests that stress during pregnancy may increase the risk of the unborn child developing asthma or other allergies. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that both genetics and environment affect the unborn child. Baby’s exposed to maternal stress showed higher levels of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) which is linked to allergies and asthma.
Research also shows that children whose parents smoke are twice as likely to develop asthma. Additionally, pregnant women who smoke or are exposed to second hand smoke tend to have children with narrower airways, increasing their chance of developing asthma.
70% of asthmatics also have food allergies which can trigger symptoms. In children, a good indicator of food allergies is when a child consistently refuses to eat a certain food or complains that it makes their mouth feel ‘fuzzy’ or ‘funny.’
Medications: Proper use of medications can control symptoms and prevent attacks. There are two types of prescription medications, long-term care controller medications (Anti-inflammatory) and fast acting reliever medications (bronchodilator).
- Anti-inflammatories are taken even when there are no symptoms and are important to prevent or decrease attacks. Treatment includes oral or inhaled corticosteroids which help reduce inflammation and mast cell stabilizers that reduce triggers. However, controller medications will NOT ease symptoms during an attack.
- Bronchodilators provide relief when an asthma attack occurs by relaxing and opening up muscles around the airways. These can be given in an injection or by inhalers or puffers. However, overuse and relying only on these to get through an asthma attack will not prevent or control symptoms and can even make them worse as the body gets used to the medication.
Reliever medications will not prevent or reduce the incidence of asthma attacks. Children with asthma rely heavily on bronchodilators (ventolin inhalers) for relief when they feel an attack coming on. It is important that parents administer controller medication to control asthma symptoms and prevent children from being dependent on bronchodilators.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent and Reduce Asthma Symptoms
An effective asthma treatment plan include daily life-style changes as well as medications. A healthy, balanced diet is especially important because long-term steroid medication use can cause bone loss and mineral deficiencies, particularly in growing children. Additonally, some medications used to treat asthma symptoms can cause nervousness.
Give your child 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day: antioxidants in these foods cleanse the body of toxins and help prevent asthma attacks. A study at King’s College and the University of Southampton found that apples have an especially protective function against asthma. Vitamin C in citrus fruits and orange juice also helps to boost the immune system and reduces symptoms.
- Chicken broth, vegetable soup and other fluids help thin bronchial mucus and soothe inflammation in the lungs.
- Omega-3 fatty acid: Foods rich in omega-3 such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines counter inflammation and soothe the lungs. Try supplements if your child’s diet is lacking omega-3.
- Coffee and tea act as natural bronchial muscle relaxers; in older children and teens a few sips may help prevent or even stop mild asthma attacks.
Avoid allergens that can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms. A food journal and tests by a family physician can determine what allergens and foods affect your child. Spring Cleaning will reduce allergens in your home and child’s bedroom by getting rid of carpets and heavy drapes and furniture. Was bedding and pillows in hot water with a natural dust mite repellent such as eucalyptus oil. Get rid of mildew and mold by controlling the humidity in your home and opening windows for fresh air.
- Breathing right: during an attack, asthmatics often panic and hyperventilate, breathing too quickly and using their neck and upper chest muscles only. This further decreases the amount of oxygen being transported into the body. Breathing techniques decrease ventilation levels when they are short of breath and breathe through the nose keeping the stomach and diaphragm relaxed. Other breathing exercises include posture and holding the breath for short intervals. Children should be taught this and breathing techniques should be used along with needed medications during an asthma attack.
- Low-stamina exercise, such as walking outdoors provides a breath of fresh air and strengthens the lungs. Swimming is a well known treatment for asthma as it forces controlled breathing. Keep your child indoors during periods of very hot or cold weather, high humidity and pollution.