Asthma is the leading cause of chronic illness during childhood. It is a condition that affects airways and the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. Childhood asthma is not a different disease than asthma in adults, but children face bothersome symptoms that interfere with their daily activities including play, sports, school and sleep.
The word ‘asthma’ is derived from a Greek work meaning 'breathlessness or panting' both of which accurately describe an attack of asthma.
In children with asthma, airways are swollen and inflamed. When these inflamed airways come into contact with an asthma trigger, symptoms of asthma appear.
Asthma has multiple causes, and two or more different causes can be present in one child. Colds and allergens are the two most common factors that trigger an asthma attack. Coughing, recurrent bronchitis, wheezing and shortness of breath, especially during exercising can be seen in an asthmatic child.
Based on the severity of the symptoms, childhood asthma can be classified as:
- Mild - Cough or a wheeze is present, but the child plays happily and feeds well. Sleep is undisturbed by symptoms.
- Moderate - The child wakes at night and cannot run around and play without wheezing or cough.
- Severe - The child is too restless to sleep, unwilling to play at all, too breathless to talk or feed.
There is no particular diagnostic test and childhood asthma is diagnosed with the help of medical history, symptom evaluation and physical examination.
Childhood asthma cannot be cured and symptoms may continue into adulthood. But symptoms can be kept under control with the right treatment, which involves preventing the asthma symptoms and treating an asthma attack in progress.