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Sanford Health Q&A: Asthma in children

Dr. Gary Peterson

Is asthma common in children?

Pediatric asthma is the most common childhood chronic illness, affecting about 9 million children in the United States.

How would I know if my child has asthma?

The most common symptoms are wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and nighttime or early morning coughing.

Do children with asthma need treatment or will they grow out of it?

If you suspect your child has asthma, you should make an appointment with a pediatrician. Asthma is a chronic disease. Diagnosis and proper treatment is essential. During an asthma episode, the airways become extremely narrow due to muscle constriction, swelling of the inner lining, and mucus production. In severe exacerbations reactions, the airflow can become so compromised by the narrowed airways that death can result.

How is asthma diagnosed in children? With young children, the pediatrician will perform a physical examination and ask about symptoms and family history to assist in making a diagnosis. With older children, the pediatrician can also perform diagnostic tests that measure how well the child’s lungs are performing. Be prepared to tell the pediatrician the symptoms you’ve noticed in your child, when they occur and how severe they seem. Know and share your family history — do other family members have asthma or nasal polyps, dermatitis or breathing problems of any type? Genetics plays a strong role in development of asthma.

What other factors contribute to asthma? Environmental allergens can trigger attacks and adjustments at home can diminish children’s discomfort. Tobacco has been shown to contribute to asthma development in preschoolers. For children diagnosed with asthma, common triggers in the home include tobacco, dust mites and pet danders. If there are tobacco users in your family, keep tobacco use outside the house.

To minimize dust mites, wash bed linens weekly, don’t use bedding with down fillings, and dispose of stuffed animals or wash them regularly. Avoid having cats, dogs and birds in the house. If you choose to keep house pets, do not allow them in the child’s bedroom. Because trees, grass and weed pollens are also asthma triggers, it may be wise to keep your child indoors on windy days or when pollen counts are high.

Is asthma treatment effective for children?

Children are very capable of actively participating in managing their asthma once they realize how much better they feel. Your pediatrician will work with your child and family to develop an Asthma Action Plan that improves the child’s overall health. Additionally, your pediatrician can recommend medications that provide quick relief during an asthma attack and effective long-term management of persistent asthma.

You will need to schedule follow-up visits to assess asthma control and modify treatment as needed. Managing pediatric asthma is an ongoing team effort that includes the child, family, pediatrician and occasionally other medical experts. With good management, your child can live normally and actively, experiencing fewer asthma attacks and adverse effects.

Peterson is a board certified pediatrician, sees patients at Sanford Health Dickinson Clinic. Dr. Peterson completed his medical degree at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, and then did his residency at the T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital, Chattanooga, Tenn. To request an appointment, call 701-456-6144.