Alphabetic Guide to Child Care - Asthma


Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system in which there is chronic (long term) inflammation of the lungs and periodic acute episodes called “attacks.’ During attacks airways contract or go into a spasm, breathing becomes difficult, and a wheezing sound is produced. Lung spasms are also accompanied by secretion of excess mucus into the airways and swelling of the bronchial tubes, causing breathing to be further restricted. Coughing, sweating, and a feeling of tightness in the chest may also accompany an attack.

Both hospitalization for asthma and death from asthma have increased over the past decade. Many physicians and scientists believe this increase is due to such factors as increasing air pollution and improper use of asthma medications. Approximately fourteen million Americans have asthma; of those, about four million are children. Asthma is a leading cause of chronic illness in children.

Triggers and Causes

Asthma may be triggered by a variety of factors, including cold weather, pollen, house dust, cockroaches, mites, animal dander, cigarette smoke, certain cleaning products, and emotional stress. In some cases, asthma may accompany a bacterial or viral infection of the nose or throat.

The Asthma Attack

If an attack occurs, a child may become very frightened, because the attack produces the sensation of suffocating. It can also be frightening to witness a child struggling to breathe. It is important to remain calm, be reassuring to the child, and call the child's pediatrician promptly. Immediate symptoms can be alleviated by prescription medications that are taken as a pill, through an inhaler, or by injection. If the trigger for the attack, such as cigarette smoke, can be determined, it should be removed from the child's presence as soon as possible.

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