Spring is known as the renewal season, blossoming flowers, budding leaves, warmer days, longer evenings, even a thunder storm here and there. All sounds lovely and idyllic except for the 20,000 children suffering with asthma in Australia. There are many factors that can trigger scary asthma flare-ups in children requiring trips to the GP or emergency but some of the big ones come in spring. So what is Asthma? How is it diagnosed? How do we look after children who have it? Where do we go when we need help looking after them? I have the answers for you.
Asthma in Children
Asthma is an airway condition that is cause by a narrowing of the air passages that carry oxygen down into our lungs. As children are still growing they have much thinner, smaller more fragile airways making it easier for the narrowing to cause difficulties moving air in and out of the lungs. It’s similar to trying to blow bubbles in a milkshake through a straw that has a blueberry stuck in it. In asthma the narrowing from inflammation or mucus is that annoying blueberry and sucking that milkshake through the straw (airway) is hard work.
What causes this narrowing? Whilst the evidence around the exact causes of asthma in children remains unclear, there is often a family history of asthma, eczema, allergies and hay-fever. What we do know is that spring brings some of the most common triggers:
- Pollen (Hay-fever)
- Changes of weather (thunder storms)
- Dust mites
- Cigarette smoke.
So how do we know if your child suffers from asthma? One of the main symptoms of asthma includes a wheeze, which is caused by air passing through the narrowing in the lung passages. When you listen to your child it may sound like they are whistling when breathing. In the first three years of life infants and children can have a wheeze cause by many viruses and colds as their sinus passages are still maturing. This does not mean they have asthma and can be quite confusing for parents. In asthma, other signs and symptoms may include:
- Coughing – particularly in the evening, early hours of the morning, when it’s cold or when running around.
- Breathing problems – your child might be breathing fast while sitting still, not able to finish a full sentence as needs to take deep breath
- Complaining of a sore chest (tightness) or tummy.
If you have noticed any of these signs or certain triggers starts a reaction in your child, make an appointment with your GP. They will walk you through your child’s/families history of asthma or asthma like symptoms. A handy tip to ensure you don’t miss any important symptoms when you chat with a healthcare professional is to make a respiratory diary and write down all the signs/symptoms you’ve noticed and when they’ve occurred. Tracking symptoms this way is very helpful for you and the medical professional.
If your child recieves an asthma diagnosis the GP will talk you through treatment options and give you a written asthma action plan, such as this one: Asthma management plan
Treatment options include:
Once your child has been diagnosed with asthma, they will be prescribed medication to help control their symptoms and prevent flare ups. These may include;
Relievers – (Typically blue or grey in colour) that are used to reduce and relax the narrowing in the airways. These work quickly and when your child is having an episode may need to use their reliever every 2-4 hours.
Preventer – (Typically red/orange in colour) prevent the episodes of asthma happening. If your child is having asthma symptoms weekly then this may be added to their action plan. Taken for a set period (during Spring) or all year round.
These asthma treatments normally come in an inhaled form and should be given through a spacer. If your child is under 4 years of age, they will be given a spacer as well as a mask. Spacers and masks may look unnecessary and can seem daunting for a little human, however they have been proven to be far more beneficial in making sure the medication reaches the lungs, having maximal effect.
If you have already got a child that is feeling unwell and agitated they can down right refuse having a mask on their face! Top tip – let the kids play with the mask and spacer, play doctors and nurses with their toys that have asthma and practice holding the mask in place when they are well. They can also decorate their spacer and mask and make it their own. The Royal Children’s hospital have wonderful resources on how to use spacers in their fact sheets and videos, which show how to really help give effective medication to children with asthma.
Asthma first aid.
Asthma first aid can be used for any child or adult who is experiencing an acute asthma episode. If your child has an emergency action plan, please follow the instructions on this.
- Shake inhaler and place it into spacer
- Form a good seal (with mask or around mouthpiece)
- When your child has breathed out, puff one dose into the spacer
- Watch your child breath in and out 4 times.
- Repeat this 4 times, shaking the inhaler in between each puff
- Wait 4 minutes, if there are no improvements in breathing repeat the cycle again.
- If a further cycle is needed, seek medical help by phoning 000 and stating “this is an asthma emergency”
This diagram from Asthma Australia outlines the best practice when treating symptoms of asthma.
Asthma varies in children, making it hard to predict or avoid triggers. Understanding early asthma signs and treating them effectively can prevent severe flare-ups. Untreated asthma can be life-threatening, with children struggling to breathe and showing distressing signs like throat or chest movements. If you notice these symptoms, call 000 or seek emergency help immediately.
As spring approaches with high pollen counts and fluctuating temperatures, ensure your child’s action plan is ready, carry an inhaler, and enjoy this season together safely.