What causes childhood asthma?

The majority of children with asthma have allergies. Even exposure to low-grade allergens (those that do not cause significant allergic reactions) may increase the severity of the asthma. In addition, allergies may play a role in undiagnosed asthma cases. Other triggers of childhood asthma may include the following:

  • upper respiratory infections (i.e., colds)
  • inhaled irritants, such as secondhand smoke
  • certain weather conditions, such as cold air
  • physical expressions of emotion, such as crying, laughing, or yelling

However, with proper management of the asthma, such as avoiding triggers, taking prescribed medications, monitoring for warning signs, and knowing what to do during an asthma attack, an individual with asthma can conduct a healthy and active lifestyle.

Do children outgrow childhood asthma?

How asthma will affect a child throughout his/her lifetime varies, depending on the child. Many infants and toddlers have an episode or two of wheezing during viral illnesses (cold, flu, etc.). However, the majority of these children do not go on to develop asthma later in life. For some children with persistent wheezing and asthma during childhood, the condition improves during the teenage years. About half of the children who have asthma at a young age appear to "outgrow" it, although the asthma symptoms may reappear later in life. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, asthma cannot be cured, but can be controlled during life with proper and adequate diagnosis, education, and treatment.

If my teen has asthma, can he/she participate in sports?

Exercise, such as running, may trigger an asthma attack in the majority of adolescents with asthma. However, with proper management, an adolescent with asthma can maintain full participation in most sports. Aerobic exercise actually improves airway function by strengthening breathing muscles. Some tips for exercising with asthma include the following:

Picture of two young girls, smiling
  • Make sure your teen breathes through the nose and not the mouth to warm and humidify the air before it enters the airways.
  • Make sure your teen is compliant with all medication before exercising, as recommended by his/her physician.
  • Make sure your teen carries a "reliever" or "reserve" medications, just in case of an asthma attack.
  • During cold weather, make sure your teen wears a scarf over the mouth and nose, so that the air breathed in is warm and easier to inhale.

Asthma and school:

Some adolescents with asthma may need to take their medications during school hours. It is important that the adolescent, family, physician, and school staff all work together toward meeting the asthma treatment goals. To ensure optimal asthma care during school hours, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends the following:

  • Meet with teachers, the school nurse, and other relevant school staff to inform them about your teen's condition, special needs, and asthma management plan in case of an urgent or emergent situation.
  • Educate school personnel on your teen's asthma medications and how to assist during an asthma attack. It is also important to inform them to refrain from altering your child's asthma care management plan in an emergent situation unless approved by your child's physician.
  • Ask school staff to treat your teen "normally" when the asthma is under control.
  • Before your teen starts a physical education class or team sport, educate that teacher or coach on exercise-induced asthma.
  • Check indoor air quality, allergens, and irritants in the school.
  • Take steps to prevent asthma symptoms from starting that could hamper your teen's energy level.
  • Ensure your adolescent's emotional well-being by reassuring him/her that asthma does not have to slow him/her down or make him/her different from others.

Giving your adolescent control of asthma:

It is very important to be honest with your teen about his/her condition, the severity of the condition, and the use of medications. Always remember, achieving independence is an important goal for an adolescent. They do no want to be different, yet they will need guidance and supervision on any restrictions they might have.

Generally, many adolescents resist having to take chronic medications, do not like having restrictions on their life, and do not want to be different. It is crucial to involve your adolescent in every aspect of the management of his/her asthma. He/she should help with goal setting and help decide which medications work best for him/her. Asthma "contracts" can be given to your adolescent child in order that he/she may have some control of his/her asthma, yet continue to allow overall parental supervision of his/her condition.

Having asthma does not have to mean having less fun than other adolescents. It is important for your adolescent child to tell his/her friends and dates what triggers the asthma, such as cigarette smoke or even perfumes or after-shaves, depending on his/her sensitivity. In addition, your adolescent child should continue taking the asthma medication as prescribed. If your adolescent child has exercise-induced asthma, he/she may need to take a preventive medicine before participating in any physical activities, such as dancing. Always consult your adolescent's physician if you have questions.

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