Put simply, asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs. But for parents trying to determine if their child has asthma, it may feel anything but simple. More than 26 million people in the United States suffer from asthma – a condition that typically manifests in childhood.
For parents, understanding the signs and symptoms of asthma is important, but it can be confusing to sort the myths from reality. Dr. Meredith Moore with Charleston Allergy & Asthma breaks down common misinformation about this condition.
1. Symptoms include more than an asthma attack
Your child can have asthma even if they’ve never had a severe attack. If your child has so much difficulty breathing that you end up taking them to the hospital, it’s a sign of a serious issue. But just because you haven’t faced that scary situation doesn’t mean your child isn’t exhibiting symptoms.
Moore says a common symptom is a persistent cough, especially at night, when exercising, laughing or even in the midst of a temper tantrum. “The symptom of coughing tells us there is extra mucus and inflammation.”
2. An inhaler isn’t the only treatment option
An asthma inhaler is considered a “rescue medication” to be used when a child is experiencing symptoms. The inhaler acts quickly to open the airwaves so the child can start breathing normally again.
For ongoing asthma control, Moore advises using inhaled steroids that prevent swelling in the lungs and lessen the mucus. This medication is taken daily either via an inhaler or a pill. She uses the lowest possible dose, and the side effects for this medication are minimal. “It’s been an amazing find over the last 30 years,” she says.
3. Exercising with asthma is OK and even encouraged
Moore says exercise makes the heart and lungs more efficient, thereby reducing severe symptoms. If a child with asthma is having trouble when exercising or playing outside, it means the asthma isn’t under control and daily medication needs adjusting.
Kids don’t schedule exercise like adults do, so the goal is to prevent them from having to visit the nurse before PE class or recess, which sets them apart from the rest of the class.
4. Children can start showing the signs of asthma within the first year of their life
This is especially true if the baby was born premature or there’s a family history of asthma, says Moore.
Asthma typically develops in childhood, and for about 20 percent of sufferers, their symptoms will lessen as they reach adulthood. Some of that is the result of their lungs growing and their airways expanding.
For those with a family history or allergies, their asthma likely will stick around through adulthood. Also, those who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke may not outgrow their asthma.
Understanding the myths surrounding asthma is important for parents who are wondering if a cough in the night is just a cough or something more significant.
“Asthma can range from mild to severe so it’s important to have an ongoing conversation with your doctor, so the asthma can be managed,” Moore says. “That includes a clear, written plan of what medications to use and when to call the doctor.”
For more than three decades, the team at Charleston Allergy & Asthma has been helping Lowcountry residents breathe better, feel better and live better. All the doctors are board certified allergists who use the latest treatments available to manage a wide range of allergies and asthma.
To request an appointment or learn more about services, visit charlestonallergy.com.