One in 13 people in the U.S. have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This serious, even dangerous, lung disease affects about 24 million adults and children in the U.S. And it causes about 2 million visits to emergency rooms annually, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
“Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the bronchial tubes that carry air into your lungs,” said Dr. Marco Coppola. “The inflammation narrows the airways, making it difficult for you to breath.”
Fortunately, asthma can be controlled by monitoring symptoms, taking medication, avoiding triggers, and seeking medical assistance as necessary.
Keep in mind that you (or your child) may have different symptoms from one asthma attack to the next.
Common symptoms include:
• Shortness of breath
• Rapid breathing
• Chest tightness
• Difficulty performing normal daily activities
Severe symptoms include:
• Very rapid breathing with skin around the chest area sucking in when inhaling
• Very pale or blue coloring in face, lips, or fingernails
• Rapid movement of nostrils
• Ribs or stomach moving in and out deeply and rapidly
• Expanded chest that doesn’t deflate on exhale
Severe symptoms can escalate quickly and lead to a medical emergency. Seek medical attention immediately.
Symptoms to watch for in children include:
• Frequent coughing spells, during play, at night, or while laughing or crying
• Chronic cough, which may be the only symptom
• Less energy during play
• Rapid breathing
• Complaint of chest hurting
• Wheezing, a whistling sound when breathing in or out
• Se-saw motions of the chest from labored breathing
• Shortness or loss of breath
• Tight neck and chest muscles
• Weakness or tiredness
Asthma can begin at any age, but most children have their first symptoms by age five.
Asthma Attack Triggers
The most common triggers are:
• Allergens, including pollen
• Tobacco smoke, including secondhand
• Air pollution
• Respiratory infections like the common cold
• The flu (influenza)
Although there are triggers for every season, as well as year-round triggers, Winter can bring special challenges:
• It’s cold and flu season. The viruses that cause these illnesses spread easily in schools and the workplace during Winter months. Take precautions like washing hands, staying away from sick people, and getting the flu shot.
• It’s cold out there. The chilly weather can cause asthma flare ups. If breathing cold air is a trigger, use Winter apparel such as a scarf across your nose and mouth or a Winter face mask for your child. If exercise or play is not a trigger, do so indoors.
• Beware of indoor allergens. We spend more time indoors during the Winter. If allergic to pet dander, dust mites, or mold, be sure to take precautions. Keep the dog or cat out of your or your child’s bedroom, use mite-proof bedding, and keep the house dry to limit mold.
Tips for Children
• For a school age child, give him some responsibility for keeping asthma under control. Discuss how to avoid her triggers and follow the asthma action plan.
• Discuss your child’s triggers and action plan with the school nurse and other school staff. Instruct them on how to use the peak flow meter and administer asthma inhalers and medication.
• Walk through your child’s classroom and other common areas, including the playground to look for common triggers and discuss how your child can avoid them.
When to See Your Doctor
If you suspect you or your child may have asthma, see a doctor for evaluation and diagnosis. Develop an asthma action plan with the doctor to outline treatment steps according to symptoms and severity.
If an attack is not quickly controlled with medication, seek immediate medical assistance by calling 911 or visiting an emergency room.