Asthma is a long-term condition that affects over 1.1 million children in the UK. It affects the airways, the small tubes know as the bronchi that carry air in and out of the lungs. It varies in severity of symptoms between children and can be controlled effectively in most children.
Did you know...
- 1 in 11 children in the North West have asthma - this means that 2 children in every classroom suffer from the condition. It is one of the most common long-term medical conditions.
- Over 5800 children get admitted with an asthma attack to North West hospitals every year. The North West has the highest admission rates nationally for children and young people. Yet these asthma attacks are preventable.
- Every 17 minutes a child with asthma is admitted to hospital as a result of complications.
- National data shows that 38.5% of emergency hospital admissions for asthma are for children aged 14 years or under.
What causes asthma?
The exact cause of asthma is not yet fully understood. Asthma can occur when your child comes into contact with something that irritates their lungs (a trigger) and this can result in a number of symptoms that make it difficult for your child to breathe including: wheezing, coughing and tightness in the chest.
If your child has asthma, the airways of the lungs are more sensitive than normal and when they suffer an attack, their airways narrow, the lining becomes inflamed, the muscles around them tighten and a sticky mucus or phlegm is produced.
Every child is different and the triggers can differ widely. The most common triggers are:
- Cold or flu viruses
- Exercise, especially in cold weather
- Common allergies such as grass or tree pollen, animal fur and dust mites
- Air pollution
- Tobacco smoke.
What are the best ways to treat asthma in children?
There is no cure for asthma, but there are treatments that can help control the condition effectively and let your child lead a normal life. The main aim is to control the condition to prevent future attacks. Treatment will be tailored to the severity of your child's condition.
Your GP will assess your child's condition and draw up a personal asthma action plan. This will include details about which medicines should be used to treat your child's condition. It is important that your child learns to recognise the symptoms of asthma attacks as they grow older so that they know how to treat their condition effectively.
It is also important that you inform your child's other carers and school staff about their condition and medication, to ensure that they know what to do in the event of an asthma attack.
What medicines are available to treat asthma?
Asthma medicines are usually taken using inhalers. These devices deliver the medicine directly into your child's airways when your child breathes in. They can be taken to prevent or relieve the symptoms of asthma.
If your child has difficulty using an inhaler, they can also use a spacer, a large plastic or metal container that has a mouthpiece at one end and a hole at the other end for the inhaler. This device allows the medicine to be puffed into the spacer by the inhaler and then breathed in through the mouthpiece of the spacer.
What types of inhaler are there?
It is really important that your child learns to take their inhalers as recommended:
- Preventer Inhalers - these are usually brown, orange or red
- Reliever Inhalers - these are usually blue.
The preventer inhaler can make a big difference in controlling your child's asthma symptoms and should be taken twice daily.
What can I do if my child suffers an asthma attack?
Your child's personal asthma action plan will help you deal with asthma attacks. It will tell you what to do and when to seek medical attention. If your child has severe symptoms, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.
Treatment following an asthma attack usually involves giving your child several extra doses of the reliever inhaler. However, if their symptoms worsen, it may be necessary to admit them to hospital, where they will be given high doses of reliever treatment and a course of steroid tablets or injections. They may also be given extra oxygen to bring the symptoms under control. After an attack, your child's asthma action plan should be reviewed again to prevent further attacks.
Where can I find out more information on asthma?
Your GP can provide you with information on how to manage your child's condition. Asthma UK is a charity that has various resources to support schools, parents and carers. Visit their website for more details.