Allergic Asthma in Children: What Parents Need to Know
For about 80 percent of the children in this country who have asthma, allergies are the trigger. More than 2.5 million children under 18 suffer from allergic asthma.
Whether the source is an allergen (something that causes allergies) or a non-allergen, asthma causes the lungs to overreact to these triggers. This results in wheezing, a chronic cough, rapid breathing caused by a shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest as the child struggles to breathe freely. Whether you are 4 or 40, an asthma attack can be frightening.
So why does it matter whether the cause of your child’s asthma is an allergen or a non-allergen? Because one of the best ways to prevent asthma attacks is to minimize exposure to the things that trigger these reactions. To do this, it helps to know the triggers. Know this: If you suffer with allergies, your children have an increased risk for allergic asthma.
This article looks at allergic asthma triggers, how to avoid them, and some of the treatments for allergic asthma in younger children.
Allergic asthma is what happens when a person’s lungs overreact to being invaded by foreign substances. Allery-induced asthma causes swelling and inflammation of the breathing passages. To get rid of these allergens, the body produces histamines. Histamines cause the airways to narrow or tighten. The airways also fill with mucus. This all results in a struggle to breathe.
What are the allergens that cause this traumatic experience?
- Pet dander
- Dust mites
- Cockroach particles
For most people, these everyday pollutants cause no reaction. For the person who is allergic, they are a declaration of war on the body. It’s not unusual for children to be allergic to more than one thing. Common triggers for them include certain types of food: milk, eggs, soy, cheeses, wheat, and nuts.
Infants may react to food allergies by vomiting or having bouts of diarrhea, along with a runny nose, a cough with lots of phlegm, and dry, itchy skin.
For many asthma sufferers, both allergens and non-allergens can be the trigger. Non-allergen asthma triggers include exercise, respiratory infections, cold air, and pollution.
The good news about allergic asthma is that sufferers can take more control over avoiding the triggers.
If your child has allergic asthma, it’s essential to help him or her avoid the things that trigger attacks. This begins with allergy proofing your home.
Because most of your child’s time is spent at home, it’s very important to control the quality of the air he or she breathes inside. Allergy proofing your home is not a simple task, but it’s necessary. Make a room-by-room plan. List anything that could trigger an attack. Then, decide what you’re going to do to remove or control the threat. Here are a few potential problem areas:
- Carpeting holds dust, hair, and potentially mold
- Pet hair and dander
- Insects, dead or alive, especially cockroaches
- Books and bookcases
- Window blinds
- Drapes and curtains
- Bedding, including pillowcases and sheets for the mattress and box springs
- Knickknacks, or ornamental items that are great dust collectors
- Pictures, paintings, and other wall decorations
- Throw pillows
- Cookware that sits on the counters
In short, anything that can collect dust and provide a safe harbor for dust mites requires your attention. Dust regularly. If you have a lot of dust-collecting items, consider getting rid of some of them. Also, whenever possible, dust while your child is going to be out of the house for a while. Use a damp cloth or spray your cloth so that the dust sticks to the cloth. Simply wiping only stirs up floating dust.
Beds and bedding also can be real culprits here. The solution is to cover pillows, mattresses, and box springs with allergy-proof covers. They prevent penetration by dust mites when zipped closed. Also wash sheets and other bedding in hot water every week.
To prevent mold, you need to prevent dampness in dark places. Focus on keeping the air in your home dry. A dehumidifier can help. This will also help control dust and dust mites.
Animals must be kept out of your child’s bedroom. If your child has severe allergic reactions to animals with hair, you might need to find another home for your pet.
What about triggers outside your home such as pollen, grass, and weeds?
Control the things you can.
For example, listen to the morning news to learn which days are expected to have high pollen counts. Try to keep your child indoor those days. If you plan to mow the lawn, make sure your child stays indoors with the windows closed while the scent of freshly mowed grass hangs in the air. Keep masks in the house that your child can wear indoors and outdoors.
Avoiding triggers helps a great deal, but your child can’t live in a bubble. He or she can’t avoid everything. This is why sticking to an asthma action plan and taking the prescribed medications is so important.
Doctors typically treat asthma with a combination of short-term drugs for emergency care and long-term medication that reduces the inflammation. The medications prescribed often are the same for both allergic and non-allergic asthma triggers. These drugs are inhaled.
Rescue inhalers work fast, but they are meant to be used only occasionally. Called bronchodilators, these medications quickly open the airways, so your child can breathe deeply right away. They work by relaxing the muscles around the airways, which tighten in response to an invading allergen. Needing to use them more than a couple of times a week is a sign that your child’s asthma is not under control yet.
Doctors prescribe medications called corticosteroids to fight inflammation and produce long-term control of the disease. Gradually, corticosteroids reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Even infants may be prescribed inhaled corticosteroids.
Infants and toddlers often use the same type of asthma drugs as older children and adults but in lower dosages. Inhaled asthma drugs are generally administered to children under age 4 using a nebulizer (often called a breathing machine) and a mask. The nebulizer changes the medication to a fine mist, making it easier for younger children to inhale. When a mask is attached to the nebulizer, it guides the delivery of the mist, ensuring it goes where it is needed.
Children under 4 generally are not prescribed dry powder inhalers because they lack the ability to inhale deeply and quickly enough to get the full advantage of the medication.
Toddlers and older children may also inhale their medication from a metered canister, which delivers the same amount of medicine with each inhalation. Often, the canister attaches to a spacer, or a long hollow chamber. Children inhale the medication through the spacer.
Pediatricians try to stabilize your child’s asthma for at least three months before “stepping down” the dosage or frequency of prescribed treatments. If conditions worsen or don’t improve, the doctor may step up, or increase, the dosages or add additional medications.
The only way to know whether your child has allergic asthma is to have it diagnosed by a doctor. Your child’s age plays a role in how the doctor makes the diagnosis. If your child is diagnosed with asthma, whether the triggers are allergens or non-allergens, the doctor will work with you to develop an effective asthma action plan.
This plan details the steps you and your child will take daily to get the asthma under control and prevent attacks. It is a written plan that allows you and your child to track what’s working and whether treatments need to be adjusted. Children with allergic asthma who manage their triggers and follow their asthma action plan can live active healthy lives.
- Call (213) 747-5542 to get an appointment to have your child’s symptoms diagnosed.
- Learn more about asthma action plans.