Australian scientists have found that children with asthma are at increased risk of developing anxiety later in life.

Published in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, the study, which was undertaken by The University of Queensland’s School of Public Health, assessed data from 10,000 children collected since 2004.

Lead researcher on the study, Diana Garcia Sanchez, said In a statement their analyses showed that 4-year-olds with asthma were more likely to develop anxiety between the ages of 6 and 15 years compared to non-asthmatic children, he

“We found there was an 87 percent increased risk overall for children with asthma,” Garcia Sanchez said. “We also found girls with asthma experienced more anxiety than boys during adolescence.”

In Australia, about one in five children suffer from this disease.

Anxiety Not Linked to Medication

According to the researchers, the medication used to treat the disease is not responsible for the increased risk of anxiety.

“The asthmatic children in the study who were unmedicated developed anxiety at a higher rate than those who were medicated for asthma,” said Garcia Sanchez.

“The children who were not taking asthma medication were 9 percent more likely to develop anxiety than their medicated counterparts.

She said that there could be other factors like an additional burden to manage the disease or a linkage between immune system dysfunction/inflammation and mental health in some of the new models.

“Other factors could explain the link between asthma and anxiety, and health professionals and parents should regularly monitor the mental health of children and provide psychological support where appropriate,” she said.

“This may help identify those most at risk of developing anxiety earlier and improve management of the condition.”

In another study by the Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, USA, 38 asthma patients ages 14-17 were assessed, with researchers finding that their average scores for stress and anxiety levels were higher than those seen in the general population.

“Because these patients may be particularly vulnerable to stress and anxiety, this information can be helpful to physicians as they counsel their patients about the importance of managing their asthma,” Dr. Cathryn Luria, the study’s lead author, said.

“While we found a link between asthma symptoms and stress and anxiety, it’s not clear which came first—the symptoms or the stress and anxiety. More study is needed to determine that.”

It’s important to note that not all children with asthma will develop anxiety, and many children with asthma lead happy and fulfilling lives. However, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risk and to provide support and resources for children with asthma to manage their condition and their emotional well-being.

Asthma Specifications

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects the airways and can cause symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

There are several factors that may contribute to the increased risk of anxiety in children with asthma:

  • Physical symptoms: Children with asthma may experience physical symptoms that can be distressing, such as difficulty breathing or coughing. These symptoms can be scary and may lead to increased anxiety, especially in younger children who may not understand what is happening to their bodies.
  • Emotional stress: Managing a chronic condition like asthma requires regular medication use, monitoring of symptoms, and sometimes lifestyle modifications. This can result in emotional stress for children, as they may feel different from their peers or burdened by the need to manage their asthma. This stress can contribute to the development of anxiety.
  • Fear of asthma attacks: Children with asthma may fear having an asthma attack, which can cause anxiety about when and where an attack may occur. This fear may lead to avoidance of certain situations or activities, which can impact a child’s daily life and increase anxiety.
  • Impact on daily life: Asthma can affect a child’s daily activities, such as participation in sports, outdoor play, or other physical activities. This limitation can lead to frustration, social isolation, and anxiety about missing out on experiences that other children without asthma may be able to enjoy.
  • Parental anxiety: Parents of children with asthma may also experience anxiety related to their child’s condition. This can impact the child’s emotional well-being, as children may pick up on their parent’s anxiety and internalize it.

Strategies to Help Kids Manage Their Anxiety

Supporting children with anxiety requires a compassionate and holistic approach that addresses their physical, emotional and mental well-being. Here are some strategies that can be helpful in helping kids cope with anxiety:

  • Create a safe and supportive environment: Providing a safe and nurturing environment at home, school, and other settings can help children feel secure and reduce anxiety. This includes establishing consistent routines and creating a calming space.
  • Validate their feelings: It’s important to acknowledge and validate children’s feelings of anxiety without minimizing or dismissing them. Letting them know that it’s okay to feel anxious and that their emotions are valid can help them feel understood and accepted.
  • Teach coping skills: Teach children age-appropriate coping skills that they can use when they’re feeling anxious. This may include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization techniques, or other relaxation techniques that can help them manage their anxiety.
  • Encourage physical activity: Physical activity has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety in children. Encourage regular physical activity through activities such as playing outdoors, swimming, or participating in sports, as it can help reduce stress and promote overall well-being.
  • Foster healthy sleep habits: Adequate sleep is crucial for children’s mental health and can help reduce anxiety. Establish consistent sleep routines, create a calming bedtime routine, and ensure that children are getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age group.
  • Promote healthy lifestyle habits: A healthy diet, regular hydration, and avoiding excessive caffeine or sugar can all contribute to better mental health in children. Encourage healthy lifestyle habits that support their physical well-being, which in turn can have a positive impact on their anxiety levels.
  • Encourage open communication: Encourage children to express their thoughts and feelings openly without judgement. Create a safe space for them to share their worries, fears, and concerns, and actively listen to them without interrupting or dismissing their feelings.
  • Seek professional help if needed: If the child’s anxiety persists or significantly impacts their daily functioning, consider seeking professional help from a qualified healthcare provider, such as a paediatrician, therapist, or counsellor. They can provide appropriate assessment, support, and treatment options tailored to your child’s needs.

Alternative Approaches

In addition to standard medical care, there are other approaches that parents could apply to children showing signs of anxiety.

Recently there has been an upsurge in nature prescriptions, which are part of a growing movement known as “ecotherapy” or “green therapy” and are applied particularly for mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Emphasizing the connection between nature and health, nature prescriptions refer to the practice of using nature-based interventions, such as spending time in natural environments, like walking, hiking, gardening, camping, birdwatching, or simply spending time in parks or other natural settings.

The idea behind nature prescriptions is that exposure to nature can have a positive impact on physical and mental well-being, as spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, increase physical activity, boost immune function, enhance cognitive function, and promote overall well-being.

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