All About Asthma

What you should know as a caregiver.

The Disease

If your child has persistent asthma, you’ve seen him suffer from symptoms like wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. It’s not easy to watch your child struggle, but by educating yourself and your family about the condition, you can help your child manage the symptoms and, in some cases, avoid them altogether.

Asthma is a condition that causes chronic inflammation in both the large and small airways of the respiratory system, which causes the bronchial tubes to constrict and makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs. This inflammation can be triggered by factors externally or internally.

Asthma can be categorized into two types: allergic and non-allergic. Allergic asthma, the more common of the two, occurs when pollen, dust, or pet dander impact the airways. Non-allergic asthma is caused by triggers such as viral infections, irritants like cigarette smoke exposure, and stress or anxiety.

The Latest

Many people with asthma or parents of children with asthma don’t realize the condition impacts both the large and small airways of the lungs. Similar to tree limbs, the airways of the lungs are divided into “branches,” or bronchial tubes that begin with the large, main bronchi and then break off into many small airways in the lungs.

As you can imagine, for a child, those large and small airways are even smaller. Increasing evidence suggests that these small airways, when inflamed, may play a significant role in contributing to asthma symptoms and attacks.

There have been many advances in asthma treatments over the past several years, which have led to the availability of medicines that target the small airways in particular— and, when used as prescribed, have the ability to improve asthma control and reduce inflammation.

If inflammation is not treated, the airways can become more constricted and blocked with mucus, increasing your child’s risk of an asthma attack.

The Management

There are steps you can take to prevent and minimize the symptoms of your child’s asthma. Certain triggers, such as allergens, tobacco smoke, and some aerosol sprays can be avoided to prevent the onset of an attack. Triggers are different for each child, and it’s important to keep track of when symptoms occur and the factors that may have played a role.

Medications are available to help treat asthma symptoms. Asthma treatments are classified into two categories: long-term controllers and quick-relief medications. Controllers are taken on a daily basis and help to prevent the inflammation in the airways in patients with persistent asthma, but they give no immediate relief. For sudden symptoms, quick-relief inhalers, also known as rescue inhalers, are taken to relax the muscles around the airways, causing them to dilate.

In order to find a treatment plan that fits your child’s needs, you should work closely with a physician and always maintain open communication. To guide your discussions, begin keeping track of your child’s symptoms and when they occur.

It’s important to get smart about asthma and stay on top of your child’s symptoms, especially as the start of the school year brings busy schedules and new stresses. Proper management requires the right knowledge and tools.

There are many resources available to asthma sufferers and their caregivers including an online resource, www.getsmartaboutasthma.com. There, visitors can find asthma tools designed for the well-informed patient and caregiver such as a symptoms diary, an asthma quiz, information about the latest research, and discussion guides.

Did You Know...

  • 25 million people in the United States suffer from asthma.
  • The total surface area of the lung can be up to 200 square meters— the size of a singles tennis court.
  • Asthma inflammation is not only contained to the large airways, but also extends to the small airways.
  • Even if signs of asthma aren’t obvious, it’s still possible to have inflammation in the airways.
  • There is no known cure for asthma, but symptoms can be controlled with proper treatment.