Studies have shown that environmental factors play a large part in developing and managing asthma. This is especially true for asthma in children, whose lungs are not yet mature.
Whether or not your child has this condition, it is worthwhile to be familiar with the risk factors of asthma. Following is some basic information on the symptoms of asthma, the varying types of the disease, and how your child’s environment can influence their likelihood of developing it.
Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma is a disease of the airways, or bronchial tubes, which constricts breathing. During an asthma attack, the muscles in the airways tighten and sometimes fill with mucus, making it difficult to breath.
Some common symptoms of asthma include:
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath
When certain conditions are the cause of these symptoms, they are called asthma “triggers.” Some common triggers include:
- Allergens (animal dander, dust, mold, pollen)
- Chemical vapors (perfume, paint, etc.)
- Cold air
- Illnesses, especially ones that affect the lungs
- Tobacco or wood smoke.
Types of Asthma
Physicians classify asthma into four categories based on frequency of symptoms and measure of lung function. However, this classification is not permanent. Asthma sufferers may experience more or less severe episodes depending on their environment and other factors.
The four categories are generally described as mild intermittent, mild persistent, moderate and severe.
- Mild, intermittent asthma: This applies if daytime asthma symptoms occur fewer than two times per week, nighttime asthma symptoms occur less than two times per month and episodes last for a few hours or days. Lung function typically falls in the 80th percentile for those with mild intermittent asthma.
- Mild, persistent asthma: This applies to those whose symptoms are not experienced daily, but who have daytime episodes at least twice per week and nighttime episodes at least twice per month. The length of episodes and lung function are the same as those with intermittent asthma.
- Moderate, persistent asthma: This applies to those whose daytime asthma symptoms occur daily and inhibit regular activities. Also, nighttime symptoms often occur more than once per week. Episodes typically last for days at a time and require the daily use of inhalers or other quick-relief treatments. Lung function typically falls within the 60 to 80th percentile.
- Severe, persistent asthma: This is for sufferers with continuous daytime and frequent nighttime asthma symptoms. Those suffering from severe asthma have a lung function that falls below the 60th percentile of standard lungs, inhibiting their ability to carry out normal daily activities.
Risk Factors of Asthma
You and your child’s genes and lifestyle choices can factor into the development of asthma in children. Some common genetic risk factors include:
- Allergic sensitivity: Those with airborne allergen sensitivity such as dust, pet dander, pollen and mold, almost always develop asthma as well.
- Gender: Pre-pubescent males are more likely to develop asthma, a figure that is often attributed to their characteristically smaller airways.
- Family history: If someone in your family has asthma, your child is up to six times more likely to develop the condition. Other genetic conditions like airway hyperactivity and hypersensitivity of the skin also seem to be connected to one’s risk factor for developing asthma. Up to 50 percent of children who have eczema also develop asthma.
For those children with relatively perfect genes, lifestyle habits can also lead to asthma. Some environmental factors in asthma include:
- Living environment: If the air inside your home is often polluted with cigarette smoke, cleaning fumes, mold spores, nitrous oxide (from gas-powered appliances) and other lung irritants, the airways can build an aversion to these inhalants, which can lead to asthma. Children who spend a lot of time outdoors where there is heavy exhaust, pollen or airborne chemicals can also develop asthma as a result.
- Obesity and exercise: Overweight children are much more likely to develop asthma than slimmer, more active children. Asthma can develop as a side-effect of the extra effort needed to move their heavier frames. The condition may also come from the lack of exercise often associated with obesity. When children don’t spend enough time running, playing and otherwise breathing deeply, their airways may grow unaccustomed to such activities, and react with asthmatic symptoms.
- Smoking: Children whose parents smoked during gestation are often born with low birth weight or limited pulmonary function, making them more susceptible to asthma. Secondhand smoke, even if not in the home, can also affect lung development and increase the risk of asthma in children. Finally, children who take up smoking at an early age put themselves at a high risk for developing asthma.
Treatment and Management
If your child has developed asthma, effective treatment options are available to live a healthy, productive life. Short- and long-term treatment medications are available through your doctor. Many tips online for keeping your home clean and asthma-safe are also easily researched.
Asthma doesn’t have to be a devastating experience for your child. A little research and a few simple steps can help them manage their asthma and get back to being a kid!
Engel, M. (2009). Asthma and exercise: Not what you think. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from the Los Angeles Times Web site: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2009/03/can-watching-te.htmlÂ
Simon, H. (2006). Adult asthma risk factors. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from the My Asthma Central Web site: http://www.healthcentral.com/asthma/introduction-000004_5-145.htmlÂ