If you hear your child frequently coughing throughout the night, you shouldn’t brush it off as “just a cold.” While many things may cause a cough in children, a chronic nighttime cough could be a sign of something more serious — asthma.
Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the lungs that causes airway constriction and dangerous asthma attacks.
May is Asthma Awareness Month, and with increasing seasonal allergies that can irritate asthma, it’s crucial to recognize asthma symptoms in your child and what triggers them before it’s too late.
“Asthma awareness is so important because an asthma attack can be life-threatening if not treated appropriately,” said Rachel B. DiSanto, a physician at Statesville Family Practice.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, nearly 160 American children under 15 years old lost their lives to asthma in 2020.
What is an asthma attack?
Asthma flare-ups usually begin when something irritates your child’s lungs. These are called asthma triggers.
When your child inhales one of their asthma triggers, the inflammation and redness in their airways worsen, making muscles surrounding their airways tighten. This causes your child’s already swollen airways to become even smaller and restricts airflow. Cells in your child’s airway may also start producing more mucus than usual, which makes it even harder to get air through.
This reaction puts them in the middle of a dangerous asthma attack.
“If your child has been diagnosed with asthma previously and you have an asthma action plan, follow the plan and administer their rescue inhalers as indicated by your child’s provider,” said DiSanto.
According to DiSanto, sometimes, when an asthma attack is very severe, there will no longer be any wheezing noises, but the child will have even more difficulty getting air in.
If you do not have a plan in place or your child still has trouble breathing, you should immediately take them to the emergency room.
“Asthma attacks can be life-threatening, and it is important to recognize the early signs of asthma to begin treatment as early as possible,” said DiSanto.
How do I know if my child has asthma?
According to DiSanto, asthma may begin in the first few years of your child’s life but typically becomes more apparent in preschool or early elementary school.
Very young children may have difficulty explaining how they feel, making asthma sometimes hard to detect. As a parent, you should look out for these signs in your children, especially when your child is very active at play:
- Shortness of breath or fast breathing
- Wheezing (a whistling sound when exhaling)
If your child says their chest hurts, this can also be a sign of asthma.
“Many children will have a cough as their primary symptom and may not even wheeze. Particularly, coughing through the night, even while sleeping, is a common symptom of asthma, especially in younger children,” said DiSanto.
How can I help my child manage their asthma?
Schedule an appointment with your child’s provider
If you think your child has asthma, you should firstly schedule an appointment with their primary care provider or pediatrician.
“Anyone with asthma symptoms should be evaluated by their primary care physician right away. Your child’s family provider or pediatrician is fully trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of asthma and ensure proper testing is done. A pulmonary function test may be used to definitively diagnose asthma,” said DiSanto.
Your child’s provider can also begin therapy right away if needed.
Avoid Asthma Triggers
One of the best ways to help your child manage asthma is to help them avoid triggers and make sure they understand what their triggers are.
Asthma has many triggers that may vary from person to person, and not everyone will react to the same ones.
According to DiSanto, some common triggers include cold air, hot air, upper respiratory illnesses like the cold or flu, allergens, exercise, cigarette smoke, and other irritant fumes or aerosols.
Allergens are substances that cause an allergic response in the body, such as seasonal pollen, foods, dust, mold, and animal dander.
“One of the most effective things parents can do is quit smoking or never smoke indoors or in a vehicle with their children. Cigarette smoke and second-hand smoke can contribute to a child developing asthma and worsen their symptoms,” said DiSanto.
Your child’s primary care provider or pediatrician can help you identify their triggers and find ways to avoid them.
You can help your child identify the causes of their asthma and keep track of their symptoms and breathing functions with a device called a peak flow meter.
Have an action plan
Your child’s provider can help you develop an asthma action plan that spells out their medications, when to use them, and what to do when their asthma worsens.
You should also give the asthma action plan to your child’s school nurse so your child can receive proper treatment for their asthma while in school.
“When your child is younger, the school nurse will administer your child’s inhaler medications to them during school hours. The older your child gets, and depending on school policy, your child may be able to manage their own symptoms with their inhalers,” said DiSanto.
Though there is no cure for asthma, with proper treatment, you can help your child stay active and healthy.
DiSanto practices at Statesville Family Practice, located at 310 Davie Avenue. She treats patients of all ages, including infants. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rachel B. DiSanto, please call 704-873-3269.