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Asthma is a common condition caused by narrowing of the small air passages (breathing tubes/bronchi) in the lungs. The narrowing happens because the air passages become swollen and inflamed. This makes it harder for air to get through and causes wheezing, coughing and problems with breathing.
About one in four children will have wheezing sometime during childhood. With the right medicine and treatment, nearly all children with asthma will be able to join in sport and lead active lives.
The most common signs of asthma are:
If your child has wheezing, coughing or problems breathing, it is important to talk to your doctor about whether it might be asthma.
Symptoms of asthma will often go on for two to three days, and sometimes longer. Once the initial attack has improved, your child will need Ventolin three to four times a day until the cough and wheeze are gone.
There are many different things that can trigger, or start, an asthma attack. While it is not always possible to know when an attack will occur, some common trigger factors are:
It would be helpful for you to know what may trigger asthma in your child so you can help avoid it where possible.
Asthma can be well controlled in nearly all children with the right medicine. The two types of medication used by children are:
Relievers help during an attack and act quickly. These include:
These are called bronchodilators and have the best effect when they are inhaled. They relax the narrowing of the breathing tubes and make it easier for air to get through.
For acute/sudden attacks, your child will need Ventolin every two to four hours. If your child needs it more often, you should speak with your doctor.
Prednisolone helps by making the breathing tubes react to Ventolin more. It also reduces the swelling of the lining of the air passages. Prednisolone is given as a syrup or tablet and will often take about six to eight hours to work. Your child will usually need to take it for two to four days. You may have read about possible side effects from prednisolone. These happen when the medicine is given for months at a time. These side effects will NOT happen when the prednisolone is given for just a few days.
Preventers help prevent attacks from happening and are usually inhaled, such as:
Preventer medicines have to be taken every day. Not all children need preventer medicine.
Your child will need to see their local doctor regularly if they have preventer medicines. The doctor will make sure the preventer medicines are working and will adjust the dose of medicine to suit your child's needs.
When symptoms of asthma cannot be controlled by preventers alone, a group of medicines called symptom controllers, such as Serevant and Formoterol, may also be used. They help in a similar way to Ventolin and Bricanyl but continue working for longer. Sympton controllers are used in addition to preventers, and as a result are often combined into one inhaler. For example, Seretide is a combination inhaler containing Flixotide (preventer) and Serevent (symptom controller). Similarly, Symbicort contains Pulmicort (preventer) and Formoterol (symptom controller). Symptom controllers must never be used by themselves; they must always be used with a preventer.
If your child has asthma, ask your doctor to write down an Asthma Action Plan. The plan will tell you how to prevent asthma attacks and how to manage asthma attacks when they happen. The plan should be kept in a place where you can find it easily.