CCCH art

Grow & Thrive - Asthma

  • Volume 4, No 2 - Asthma. May 2015.

    Asthma is a significant community health problem and the most common medical reason for children to be admitted to hospital. However, most children who have asthma can take part in and enjoy normal childhood activities, provided that their asthma is well managed and a good asthma plan is in place.

    Asthma is a significant community health problem and the most common medical reason for children to be admitted to hospital. However, most children who have asthma can take part in and enjoy normal childhood activities, provided that their asthma is well managed and a good asthma plan is in place.

    In an asthma attack, the bronchi in the lungs narrow because the muscles tighten and the walls of the bronchial tubes become inflamed. This narrowing makes it harder to take in air and causes wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing.

    One in 10 Australian children has been diagnosed with asthma, but one in four children will experience wheezing at some point in their childhood. Not all childhood wheezing is necessarily asthma; asthma can be difficult to diagnose in young children.

    Defining asthma

    We don’t know the exact cause of asthma, though we do know that genetic and environmental factors both play a part. Asthma often runs in families and can also be related to other conditions, such as eczema, hay fever and allergies.

    Common triggers for asthma

    A viral upper respiratory tract infection is the most common trigger for an acute asthma event.

    Other common triggers include allergies to inhaled allergens, particularly dust mites. There is a number of factors that can make asthma attacks more likely to occur. Some of these factors can be relatively easily avoided, others cannot be avoided or only with great difficulty:

    • A genetic predisposition to asthma is a factor that cannot be avoided. If a child is from a family where other family members have asthma and/or eczema, hay fever and other allergies, they may be genetically predisposed to asthma.
    • Picking up a virus that leads to an upper respiratory tract infection is another trigger that is very difficult to avoid. Upper respiratory tract infections are very common in childhood, young children can have between six and eight infections of this sort every year. It’s important to be aware of the increased risk of an asthma attack when a child has an upper respiratory infection.
    • About 80 per cent of children with asthma will experience symptoms when they exercise. In school-age children, where organised sport is a part of the school day, this is another time where awareness of the increased risk is important. However, if asthma is well managed, it shouldn’t prevent children from participating in sport.
    • Passive exposure to cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke can contaminate a child’s environment. It remains in the hair, skin and clothing of the smoker, in car upholstery if someone smokes in a vehicle, and in furniture in the home. Subsequently, asthma can be triggered in children even without them being exposed to someone actively smoking.

    Asthma management

    With consideration given to known triggers. the medications that the child’s doctor has prescribed, a regularly reviewed asthma management plan that covers the medications to use and how to use them, a child’s asthma can be well managed.

    Learn more

    The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne has lots of great asthma resources that you can share with families, including videos and an asthma management plan generator to share with all those involved in the child’s care.

    The Raising Children Network has a comprehensive series of evidence-based articles on asthma.

    There are two national bodies for asthma, National Asthma Council, and Asthma Australia. Both offer a wealth of online information for children and adults.

    Early childhood asthma

    Asthma is a significant community health problem and the most common medical reason for children to be admitted to hospital. However, most children who have asthma can take part in and enjoy normal childhood activities, provided that their asthma is well managed and a good asthma plan is in place.

    In an asthma attack, the bronchi in the lungs narrow because the muscles tighten and the walls of the bronchial tubes become inflamed. This narrowing makes it harder to take in air and causes wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing.

    One in 10 Australian children has been diagnosed with asthma, but one in four children will experience wheezing at some point in their childhood. Not all childhood wheezing is necessarily asthma; asthma can be difficult to diagnose in young children.

    Defining asthma

    We don’t know the exact cause of asthma, though we do know that genetic and environmental factors both play a part. Asthma often runs in families and can also be related to other conditions, such as eczema, hay fever and allergies.

    Common triggers for asthma

    A viral upper respiratory tract infection is the most common trigger for an acute asthma event.

    Other common triggers include allergies to inhaled allergens, particularly dust mites. There is a number of factors that can make asthma attacks more likely to occur. Some of these factors can be relatively easily avoided, others cannot be avoided or only with great difficulty:

    • A genetic predisposition to asthma is a factor that cannot be avoided. If a child is from a family where other family members have asthma and/or eczema, hay fever and other allergies, they may be genetically predisposed to asthma.
    • Picking up a virus that leads to an upper respiratory tract infection is another trigger that is very difficult to avoid. Upper respiratory tract infections are very common in childhood, young children can have between six and eight infections of this sort every year. It’s important to be aware of the increased risk of an asthma attack when a child has an upper respiratory infection.
    • About 80 per cent of children with asthma will experience symptoms when they exercise. In school-age children, where organised sport is a part of the school day, this is another time where awareness of the increased risk is important. However, if asthma is well managed, it shouldn’t prevent children from participating in sport.
    • Passive exposure to cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke can contaminate a child’s environment. It remains in the hair, skin and clothing of the smoker, in car upholstery if someone smokes in a vehicle, and in furniture in the home. Subsequently, asthma can be triggered in children even without them being exposed to someone actively smoking.

    Asthma management

    With consideration given to known triggers. the medications that the child’s doctor has prescribed, a regularly reviewed asthma management plan that covers the medications to use and how to use them, a child’s asthma can be well managed.

    Learn more

    The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne has lots of great asthma resources that you can share with families, including videos and an asthma management plan generator to share with all those involved in the child’s care.

    The Raising Children Network has a comprehensive series of evidence-based articles on asthma.

    There are two national bodies for asthma, National Asthma Council, and Asthma Australia. Both offer a wealth of online information for children and adults.

    Early primary teachers

    Asthma is a very common problem; 1 out of every 10 Australians is diagnosed with the condition. There are almost certainly children in your classroom who have asthma. When a child’s asthma is well managed, they are generally able to participate in all their usual activities, including sport.

    Part of ensuring that asthma is well managed is ensuring that each child who has asthma has an asthma management plan that is regularly reviewed and updated. You, and all the other people who teach and care for the child, need to be familiar with that plan.

    Asthma management plans

    An asthma management plan covers the known triggers for each child’s asthma; these can include pollen, smoke, changes in the weather and exercise. The plan also covers the actions needed if a child does experience an asthma attack: what medications they need to take; how they should take them; and what to do and who to call if the medications do not resolve the attack.

    Therapies

    The three types of medication used by children with asthma are relievers, preventers and controllers. All children with asthma require reliever medication, most commonly a short-acting beta-agonist. These are rapidly acting medications that act to relax the muscles and open the airway. Children with more severe or less well-controlled asthma will require preventer and controller medications as well.

    Relievers

    Relievers help to relieve symptoms during an attack; relievers alone are sufficient for most children with asthma. The most commonly used is Ventolin, but Bricanyl and Respolin are also used. Prednisolone (a corticosteroid) may sometimes be given for a few days – it acts to reduce inflammation.

    Preventers

    Children who have frequent symptoms in between acute episodes or persistent asthma may need a preventer medicine, which needs to be taken every day. Preventers include Flixotide, Pulmicort and Singulaire.

    Controllers

    For children whose asthma cannot be managed with preventers and relievers, there is a third category of asthma medication – controllers. These include Seretide and Symbicort; they work in a similar way to the more familiar Ventolin, but are longer lasting.

    Learn more

    Each state and territory education department has resources that can help. Bookmark the relevant one for you:

    There are two national bodies for asthma, National Asthma Council, and Asthma Australia. Both offer a wealth of online information for children and adults.

    Follow the links below for Grow & Thrive information for families on asthma. You can also download, print and share this information. 

    0-5 year old children

    Download fact sheet

    5-8 year old children

    Download fact sheet

 

Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

The Centre for Community Child Health is a department of The Royal Children’s Hospital and a research group of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.