Not many mothers are aware of asthma, at least that is the case with Mrs Helen Adeyemi, a trader at Aleshinloye Market. Her son, Charles, was sick and taken to the health centre earlier before he followed his mother to the market. At the hospital, Charles was given antibiotics, cough syrup and some medicines for his cough, chest tightness and fever.

“The moment I heard him coughing and wheezing, I suspected that he had asthma. But when I told his mummy that I suspected he has asthma, the mother refused, saying her child only had a cough that makes him sometimes feel weak” recounted Mrs Grace Adekoya, a public health nurse at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan.

But few minutes after Charles took a spoonful of ventolin syrup that Mrs Adekoya recommended he should be given, he was already out jumping up and down and playing around with his friends at the market. The Ventolin syrup stopped the coughing out rightly; and within 30 minutes he was so relieved.

“By the end of my shopping at the market, and I was back to check on him, the coughing and wheezing had stopped. That is to tell the extent asthma signs can appear and easily be reversed with proper medication and care,” she added.

Mrs Adekoya had seen many cases of children with asthma while working as a public health nurse. Her years of experience working with children made it possible for her to know that Charles was wheezing, and will require to be assessed for asthma.

Children like Charles abound in the community. But many mothers are not aware that children too can have asthma. Coughing and breathing problems in children are telltale signs of asthma in children exposed to allergens or asthma triggers in their environment.

Asthma is a disease that causes the airways, which are the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs to swell and narrow, making it very hard to breathe. If asthma isn’t well controlled, it can cause a variety of issues and complications. It can cause the child to miss school and even end up in the hospital. It’s also one of the causes of missed work for parents.

Asthma can begin at any age, but most children who get asthma have their first symptom by age 5. Childhood asthma is estimated to affect five to 10 percent of school age children in Nigeria with another three to five percent probably unrecognised or undiagnosed.

Researchers don’t know the exact cause of asthma, but they believe several factors may be leading to more and more children developing asthma in Nigeria. These includes exposure to more allergens such as dust, air pollution and secondhand smoke; not enough exposure to childhood illnesses that build up their immune systems; and lower rates of breastfeeding, which prevent babies from receiving important immune system substances.

Unfortunately, mothers’ knowledge of asthma in children is low, also asthma is often difficult to diagnose in children, especially when they’re younger than age six. This is because the condition can have similar symptoms to other illnesses, and so it can be mistaken for other respiratory conditions.

“Children, even less than a year old, can manifest asthma. They may come down with pneumonia but even after treatment, the cough persists. In some instances, the child while sucking the breast brings out the mouth and he is gasping for air; it is as if something is choking him. All children like this need to be evaluated for asthma,” she stated.

According to her, asthma symptoms include chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing (a whistling noise when breathing) and coughing (particularly at night) while breathing.

A child may have all of these symptoms or just a few. But these symptoms are often worse at night, in the early morning, during exercise or due to other triggers.

She declared: “So many times, the cough precedes the difficulty in breathing. Some start with sneezing repeatedly, coughing and then wheezing while breathing. Of course, they may have trouble sleeping because of the shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing.”

Mrs Adekoya, however, said asthma attacks are triggered in children such things as common cold, especially during infancy; weather conditions such as cold air; indoor and outdoor air pollution and allergy triggers, such as dust mites, animals, pollen or mould.

Also, irritants such as cigarette smoke and other forms of smoke, strong odours and perfumes, special soaps and fumes from wood stoves or kerosene heaters can also make asthma worse.

Moreover, Mrs Folasade Bamigbade, also a public health nurse at UCH, Ibadan, said it is important that mothers learn about their children’s asthma triggers.

“We always ask that they observe their children to understand how they react to their environment or what they take that makes them start to cough or sneeze repeatedly and then wheeze. We also teach that when children have asthma attacks, mothers should not try to force them to drink water, but take them to the hospital immediately.”

Choice of food is also important in children with asthma. Mrs Lillian Ogeh, a dietician at the UCH, Ibadan, said fried foods, iced foods, coconut as well as dried nuts and fruits from studies have been found to cause irritation of the airway, thereby coughing and wheezing in children with asthma.

Ogeh declared: “Asthma is triggered by allergens, so mothers must study their children to know what food they react to and avoid such. Food to avoid can vary from one child to another. They also must ensure they take plenty of water and foods rich in Vitamin C to help them build their body immunity so that they are less liable to infections.”



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