Welcome to the Patient Education Library of Children’s Health Care
Pediatrics - Asthma
Asthma is a lung disease. Asthma causes the breathing tubes in the lungs to temporarily narrow. People with asthma have difficulty breathing air in and out of their lungs. An allergen or irritant in the environment usually triggers an asthma flare-up.
There is no cure for asthma. Some asthma flare-ups can be prevented. Asthma can be treated with lifestyle changes and medication. Untreated asthma can become severe and life threatening. Asthma can be controlled with self-management and medical treatment. Most children with asthma can lead normal lives.
When your child breathes air in or inhales, your child's diaphragm flattens and the ribs move outward to allow your child's lungs to expand. The inhales air travels through your child's nose or mouth and down the trachea. Tiny hair-like structures in the trachea, called cilia, filter the air to help keep mucus and dirt out of the lungs. The air travels through the bronchi and the bronchioles and into the alveoli. Oxygen in the air passes through the alveoli into the capillaries. The oxygen attaches to red blood cells and travels to the heart. The heart sends the oxygenated blood to the cells in your child's body.
When your child breathes air out or exhales, the process is the opposite of when he or she inhales. Once the body has used the oxygen in the blood, the deoxygenated blood returns to the capillaries. The blood now contains carbon dioxide and waste products that must be removed from the body. The capillaries transfer the carbon dioxide and wastes from the blood and into the alveoli. The air travels through the bronchioles, the bronchi, and the trachea. As your child exhales, the diaphragm rises and the ribs move inward. As your child's lungs compress, the air is released out of his or her mouth or nose.
Asthma causes the bronchial tubes in the lungs to swell and become narrower. The muscles in the airways contract causing even further narrowing. The bronchioles may also produce extra sticky secretions or mucus. Asthma makes it harder for a child to inhale or exhale.
Doctors do not know exactly what causes asthma. They do know that the airways in some people are sensitive to triggers that cause an asthma flare-up or “asthma attack.” Allergens are a type of trigger that causes allergic reactions in the airways. Common allergens include pollen, pet dander, dust mites, mold, cigarette smoke, polluted air, perfume, and cleaning products. Triggers may also include cold dry air, physical exercise, stress, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and sulfites, a type of additive found in food or wine. Some people experience asthma when they have a cold, the flu, or bronchitis. Laughing or crying can even trigger asthma.
There are different types of asthma. Adult-onset asthma begins after the age of 20. Exercise induced asthma occurs during exercise that requires breathing through the mouth, continuous activity, or cold weather. Occupational asthma involves exposure to irritants at the workplace. Such irritants may include chemicals, plastics, rubber, paint, and metal products. Nocturnal asthma occurs between midnight and 8 AM. It is triggered by allergens in the home or sinus conditions.
Am I at Risk
Is My Child at Risk?
About half of all asthma cases occur in children under the age of ten. Boys are more likely than girls to develop asthma. Conversely, women are more likely than men to develop adult-onset asthma. Asthma affects people of all races. It is more common in people who are Afro-American or Hispanic.
Risk factors for asthma:
_____ Smoking or living with a smoker can increase your child's risk because smoke is unhealthy for the lungs and can be an asthma trigger.
_____ A family history of asthma. If parents, brothers, or sisters have asthma, a child has an increased risk of developing it as well.
_____ If your child has allergies or eczema, a skin condition, your child has an increased risk of developing asthma.
_____ If your child had allergies or a severe viral infection before he or she three years old, your child is at risk for developing asthma.
_____ Living in the inner city or being exposed to mice and cockroach waste products increases your child's chance of developing asthma.
_____ If your child is frequently exposed to triggers, your child is at risk for asthma.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.