Childhood asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways, characterized by recurrent, reversible, airway obstruction. This inflammation causes airways to tighten and narrow, which blocks air from flowing freely into the lungs, making it hard to breathe. Childhood asthma flares up with a cold or other respiratory infection particularly when the lungs are exposed to an insult such as viral infection, allergens, cold air, and exposure to smoke, exercise etc. Reduced caliber of the lungs airways results a reduction in the amount of air going into the lungs, making it hard to breathe.
The development of asthma is ultimately a complicated process influenced by many environmental and genetic factors and therefore there is no proven way to decrease a child's risk of developing asthma.
The underlying causes of childhood asthma aren't fully understood. Developing an overly sensitive immune system generally plays a role. Some factors thought to be involved such as a family history of asthma, allergic rhinitis or eczema (inherited traits), some types of airway infections.
Common triggers/risk factors of asthma include the following:
- Exposure to tobacco smoke
- Previous allergic reactions such as skin reactions, allergic rhinitis
- Low birth weight
- Chronic or frequent rhinitis
- Severe lower respiratory tract infection, such as pneumonia
- Gastro esophageal reflux disease(GERD)
Coughing is typically non-productive and can frequently be the only symptom.
- A whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling
- Shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing
- Chest tightness
- Poor exercise endurance
- Chest pain, particularly in younger children
- Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- Difficulty breathing
Asthma is often difficult to diagnose in infants. However, in older children the disease can often be diagnosed based on your child's medical history, symptoms, and physical examination. A typical history is a child with a family history of asthma and allergies who experiences coughing and difficulty breathing when playing and/or who experiences frequent bouts of bronchitis. If your child seems to have asthma that's triggered by allergies, the doctor may want to do allergy skin testing.
Doctor may also advise a chest X-ray and pulmonary function test also called lung function tests, help the doctor determine how severe the asthma is. Generally, children younger than age 5 are unable to perform pulmonary function tests. Thus doctors rely heavily on history, symptoms, examination, and response to treatment in making the diagnosis. Other tests may also be ordered to help identify particular asthma triggers. These tests may include allergy skin testing, blood tests.