Asthma is a serious condition that affects more than 22 million Americans. Additionally, for reasons that are unknown, the rate of reported cases of asthma continues to ris. Fortunately, asthma symptoms can be managed with proper medication and treatments. In addition, parents are able to minimize the risk factors of asthma in their children by adjusting environmental factors.
About Asthma in Children
Asthma is a chronic disease that restricts airways and causes difficulty breathing. Asthma causes temporary inflammation of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs, which leads to asthma symptoms.
Are you wondering about asthma symptoms in your child? Asthma symptoms include:
- chest pain
- chest pressure
- chest tightness
- shortness of breath
- trouble sleeping
In some instances, children with asthma may suffer from asthma attacks, which may occur in the presence of allergens or other environmental factors.
Asthma Attacks in Children
An asthma attack occurs when the muscles around the airways tighten, worsening the symptoms of asthma. Allergens or other factors may contribute to an asthma attack; however, some asthma attacks may be idiopathic, or onset without an identifiable cause.
Parents can identify an asthma attack in their child by the following signs:
- blue fingernails or lips
- continued symptoms despite medication
- difficulty talking
- flushed face
- persistent coughing
- rapid breathing
- severe chest pain and/or pressure
- severe wheezing during inhalation and exhalation
- tight chest and neck muscles.
If a child demonstrates these symptoms, it is important for parents to immediately administer medications, including emergency inhalers.
Genetic Risk Factors for Asthma
There are a wide variety of risk factors for asthma in children. One of the most determining factors in the development of asthma is genetics. Many health officials believe genetics predispose a child to developing asthma. Children who have parents with asthma are six times more likely to develop the condition themselves.
Additionally, many believe that gender and ethnicity play a role in childhood asthma. More than twice as many males develop asthma as females. Also, childhood asthma rates have been consistently higher in children of African and Hispanic decent than Caucasians. The reasons behind this are unknown.
Children who have allergies are also predisposed to developing asthma, especially if they are sensitive to indoor allergens, like animal proteins and dust mites. Researchers speculate that the same antibodies that fight off allergens (IgE antibodies) also play an important role in asthma.
Additionally, pre-existing conditions that affect children’s airways, such as atopy, airway hyper-reactivity and respiratory illnesses, place them at a higher risk for asthma.
Child Asthma and Environmental Risk Factors
Although genetics are a major factor in the development of childhood asthma, a child’s environment may also contribute to the respiratory disease.
Children who live in urban areas have higher reported rates of asthma, due to the amount of air pollution in these areas. In addition, those who are exposed to secondhand smoke may develop the disease. Even changes in the weather can lead to an asthma attack, particularly increases in humidity.
Other Risk Factors for Asthma
Much research is being conducted on the link between pregnancy and the development of asthma. Many believe children born with a low birth weight have higher odds of developing asthma than the general population of newborns, while others believe that breast-feeding and high intake of Vitamin D may prevent childhood asthma development.
Additionally, obesity plays a large role in developing asthma in both children and adults. Fortunately, by losing modest amounts of weight, obese individuals can dramatically lessen their asthma symptoms.
Another study suggests that children with parents who suffer from migraines are five times more likely to develop asthma. The research to confirm this hypothesis is still being tested.
Decreasing a Child’s Risk for Asthma
While parents have no control over genetic factors that predispose children to asthma, moderate changes in their environment can often lessen symptoms.
Living in areas with low amounts of pollution and smog can decrease the risk for asthma, as well as avoiding smoking near their children. Additionally, avoiding using household cleaners and gas stoves around children may also help. The absence of a dog or cat can also cut the risk.
Simply being aware of environmental factors that can lead to asthma helps parents lower the risk of childhood asthma and be prepared to treat all of their child’s health needs.
Chang, L. (2007). Do you know the risk factors for asthma? Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/asthma-risk-factors.
Health Central Network, Inc. (2009). Asthma risk factors in children and adolescents. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the Health Central Web site: http://www.healthcentral.com/asthma/introduction-000005_4-145.html.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2008). Asthma: Risk factors. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/asthma/DS00021/DSECTION=risk-factors.