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Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that usually develops during childhood. It occurs when the airways in the lungs become inflamed (swollen) and constrict (become smaller), making breathing difficult.
Asthma affects all the airways in the respiratory system, from the windpipe (trachea) in the neck to the smallest airways in the lungs. No two children with asthma are alike. Asthma affects the airways of children in three ways:
Symptoms occur when airways are irritated from asthma triggers like a cold or allergies. Asthma can be controlled in the majority of children if properly treated. Because symptoms vary from child to child and from episode to episode, four keys to successful treatment are:
Researchers are still not sure exactly what causes asthma, but they do know it can be caused by both genetics and the environment. It is important to learn what causes asthma attacks and increased asthma symptoms for individuals.
When someone with asthma has difficult time breathing, we call it an asthma attack. Asthma attacks are caused by the three factors described above: inflammation, bronchospasms and excess mucus.
Asthma attacks are set off by things around us called 'triggers.' Because everyone's asthma is different, everyone's triggers are different too. Common asthma triggers include:
Triggers are specific to each child, but smoking and secondhand smoke have been found to have a strong negative effect on children's asthma. Protect your child from secondhand smoke by keeping your home and car smoke free. If you or someone you know is a smoker and is considering quitting, try visiting Colorado QuitLine for ideas or assistance.
Early identification and treatment of asthma is important to a child's health, growth and development. Untreated asthma can lead to loss of lung function over time and interfere with your child's participation in sports and activities. Asthma is also one of the leading causes of school absences.
Asthma is inflammation and obstruction of airflow in the airways. Allergies are one of the factors that can trigger asthma attacks. Not all people with asthma have allergies, and there are many people who have allergies but do not have asthma. If your child is old enough, skin-testing (.pdf) or lab testing for environmental allergens can be performed.
More than 22 million people in the United States, including almost 7 million children, have been diagnosed with asthma. Doctors are not sure why some people get asthma, but you are more likely to have it if someone in your family has asthma or allergies.
Asthma can occur at any age, but is more common in children than adults. Young boys are nearly twice as likely as young girls to develop asthma, but that is not the case in older children and adults. Obesity is a newly identified risk factor for asthma.
The signs and symptoms of asthma include:
If you have any of these symptoms on a regular basis, you should see your healthcare provider.
Late signs of an asthma episode require immediate emergency care. These include:
To diagnose asthma, our healthcare providers will ask questions about your child's symptoms, medical history and your family medical history, and then perform a physical exam. The most common test used to diagnose asthma is called spirometry. If your child has allergies, your healthcare provider may conduct allergy skin-testing as well.
In spirometry, the child takes a deep breath and blows out the air as fast as possible. A child-friendly computer and respiratory therapist coaches the child how to do the test. This is a painless test that children find fun to do and provides valuable information for parents and the healthcare provider.
In general, children starting at age 5 can perform spirometry. The results show the total volume of air breathed out and if the flow of air from the large and small airways is normal. If the results are low, your child may be given an inhaled medication called albuterol and the spirometry test is repeated 15 minutes later to see if the results improve. This test is used to diagnose asthma as well as other lung conditions.
Depending on the child and his or her symptoms, healthcare providers might use other tests to diagnose asthma, including the Exercise Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB) Test and the Methacholine Challenge. The EIB test is performed by doing a series of spirometry maneuvers before and after exercising on a treadmill. It measures airway reactivity to exercise.
The Methacholine Challenge uses a gas called methacholine to determine airway reactivity. It involves the patient breathing the gas and doing a series of spirometry tests.
Read more about our pulmonary function tests.
Medications used in the treatment of asthma work to relieve and prevent symptoms by decreasing inflammation and bronchoconstriction (swelling and spasm in the lungs).
All medications may have side effects. Notify your child's healthcare provider if side effects develop. It is very important to take the prescribed medications regularly and as instructed to manage asthma effectively.
Our asthma program sees more children with asthma than any other hospital in Colorado. We provide comprehensive evaluation, asthma management, allergy testing and education.
Here are some asthma terms you may hear during a visit to Children's Colorado asthma program:
Pulmonology - Pediatric, Pediatrics
Allergy & Immunology, Pediatrics
Pulmonology - Pediatric, Pediatrics