Common questions about asthma

19 April 2014

TO SEE your child wheezing and struggling to breathe is distressing for any parent, and watching your child have an asthma attack is scary ? especially if you don’t know what to do.

Asthma is a common condition causing breathing difficulties in hundreds of thousands of South African children. And it’s on the rise ? there are almost three times as many children with asthma as there were 30 years ago. The best way forward is to know all about and understand this disease.

What are the symptoms?

It's important to ask your doctor about how best to treat your child’s asthma as soon as he or she begins to have symptoms.

These symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe, and may include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Shortness of breath or rapid, panting breathing
  • Fatigue which causes the child to slow down often or stop playing

If your child regularly experiences the symptoms described above, it's very likely he or she has asthma. Remember that asthma has more than one form. It can be mild asthma that comes and goes and is triggered mainly by colds. Or it can be a more persistent or severe asthma. This condition is more difficult but not impossible to diagnose when the child is younger than three years old.

What triggers my child’s asthma?

The triggers vary from child to child. In some children, colds trigger the attacks. In others, it can be exercise. Allergies may also be a big factor, as are things such as great excitement. Lots of laughing and crying can also bring on an attack.

Which treatments are available and how should my child take them?

If your kids have mild asthma, they usually only need treatment when they’re experiencing symptoms. Those with more serious asthma may need regular treatment to prevent the asthma and then also use treatment to relieve symptoms when they occur. Where possible, treatment should be taken with an inhaler. There are tablets available to treat asthma, but generally the best treatments are taken with an inhaler. There are various inhalers suitable for different ages, so you need to ask your doctor which type is best for the kind of asthma your child is experiencing.

Are the treatments safe?

The treatments taken to relieve wheezing are very safe. But if the inhaler doesn’t seem to be alleviating the symptoms, don’t keep using it in the belief that your child simply needs more of it. When your child’s asthma doesn’t improve when he or she is given a normal dose of the inhaler, it means the attack is severe and your child needs to see a doctor.

My child has asthma, so should I avoid having pets?

The short answer is yes, it’s better not to have pets with fur or feathers. That’s because most children who have asthma also tend to develop allergies. If they have a cat or dog they may become allergic to it. This will be a difficult situation to deal with if the child has become very fond.

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