While your child may not have asthma, it’s common enough that you probably know someone who does. Dr Natalie Caristo explains what happens during an asthma attack, and lists the treatment so you’re prepared.
“Asthma is when the airways in the lungs are super sensitive and there are various causes that can bring on an asthma attack,” says Natalie. “The most common cause would be a virus. So when a child gets a virus, their airways in their lungs become very sensitive and swell up and produce lots of mucus.”
“If you imagine it like you’ve got a sliding door, if the doorway’s nice and open, the air can flow freely. If you close the sliding door, and just leave it open a little gap, you’ll hear a wind tunnel effect, or the whistling of the air.”
In a child with asthma, this is called wheezing.
“Kids with asthma, their airways get very narrow, so therefore there’s only a limited amount of space for the air to pass in and out. As a result, these kids can really struggle to breathe,” she says.
There are a few ways to identify asthmatic breathing.
Natalie says that in most cases that are due to a virus, a child will normally have a runny nose, sore throat, perhaps be uninterested in food, and it then goes to their chest.
Listen to Natalie on Kinderling Conversation:
“In other cases it may be that the chest signs and the wheezing is the first sign that your child is having an asthma attack, or has asthma presentation,” she says.
“It really is individualised and that’s why it’s important to discuss this with your regular GP and have an asthma action plan, so that you know what signs to look out for if your child is going to have an asthma attack, and you can initiate the treatment quickly.”
Natalie lists three main treatments for asthma.
The primary asthma treatment is a puffer, and there are many different types.
“The blue puffer, or Ventolin, is the one that acts to open up the airways, opening up that sliding door and allowing the air to pass more freely through the space. [It] reduces the amount of wheezing and kids often feel like their breathing is a lot easier,” says Natalie.
“Depending on the severity, sometimes we need to give the Ventolin every hour, two hours, three hours, and again that is in conjunction to speaking with your doctor. “
There are also preventer puffers. "These act to try to prevent asthma attacks. So you need to take these puffers regularly, every day, even when the child is not sick, to act as a way to support the lungs and prevent them becoming susceptible from the next virus,” Natalie explains.
“Thirdly, sometimes we prescribe some oral steroids and this is used during an acute asthma attack to reduce the amount of mucus and clogginess in the lungs, so the children can breathe easier.”
“We can’t really diagnose asthma until a child is roughly about two years of age,” says Natalie. “Prior to that, children can still have wheezy episodes. We call that viral-induced wheeze or bronchiolitis.”
However, asthma requires recurrent episodes to demonstrate that your child has a propensity or predisposition to the condition. For example, when they get a virus, they develop the wheezing.
“Once they’ve turned two and they’ve shown a number of these episodes in the past, we can then classify the child as having asthma. But we may sometimes use the medications, like Ventolin, under the age of two because they still work in the same way.”
Dr Nat Caristo (MBBS BSc, FRACGP) is a GP who works with National Home Doctor Service.
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