6 Signs and Symptoms of Asthma Attacks and Triggers in Children
Signs and symptoms of an asthma attack and triggers in children include:
- Mild, moderate, or severe wheezing
- Chest tightness
When the inflammation is "triggered" by any number of external and internal factors, the walls of the passages swell, and the openings fill with mucus. Muscles within the breathing passages contract (bronchospasm), causing even further narrowing of the airways. This narrowing makes it difficult for air to be breathed out (exhaled) from the lungs. This resistance to exhaling leads to the typical symptoms of an asthma attack.
Because asthma causes resistance, or obstruction, to exhaled air, it is called obstructive lung disease. The medical term for such lung conditions is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. COPD is actually a group of diseases that includes not only asthma but also chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Some people with asthma do not have COPD. These are the individuals whose lung function returns to normal when they are not having an attack. Others will have a process of lung airway remodeling from chronic, long-standing inflammation, usually untreated. This results in permanent abnormalities of their lung function with symptoms of obstructive lung disease occurring all the time. These people are categorized as having one of the class of diseases known as COPD.
Like any other chronic disease, asthma is a condition you live with every day of your life. You can have an attack any time you are exposed to one of your asthma triggers. Unlike other chronic obstructive lung diseases, asthma is reversible.
Asthma is on the rise in the United States and other developed countries. We are not sure exactly why this is, but these factors may contribute.
Asthma is a very common disease in the United States, where more than 17 million people are affected. One-third of these are children. Asthma affects all races and is slightly more common in African Americans than in other races.
Asthma has many costs to society as well as to the individual affected.
The good news for people with asthma is that you can live your life to the fullest. Current treatments for asthma, if followed closely, allow most people with asthma to limit the number of attacks they have. With the help of your health care provider, you can take control of your care and your life.
When the breathing passages become irritated or infected, an attack is triggered. The attack may come on suddenly or develop slowly over several days or hours. The main symptoms that signal an attack are as follows:
Symptoms may occur during the day or at night. If they happen at night, they may disturb your sleep.
Wheezing is the most common symptom of an asthma attack.
Current guidelines for the care of people with asthma include classifying the severity of asthma symptoms, as follows:
Just because a person has mild or moderate asthma does not mean that he or she cannot have a severe attack. The severity of asthma can change over time, either for better or for worse.
The exact cause of asthma is not known.
An asthma attack is a reaction to a trigger. It is similar in many ways to an allergic reaction.
Each person with asthma has his or her own unique set of triggers. Most triggers cause attacks in some people with asthma and not in others. Common triggers of asthma attacks include
Risk factors for developing asthma include
If you think you or your child may have asthma, make an appointment with your health care provider. Some clues pointing to asthma include the following:
If you or your child has asthma, you should have an asthma action plan worked out in advance with your health care provider. This plan should include instructions on what to do when an asthma attack occurs when to call the health care provider, and when to go to a hospital emergency department. The following are general guidelines only. If your provider recommends another plan for you, follow that plan.
Although asthma is a reversible disease, and treatments are available, people can die from a severe asthma attack.
If you are having an asthma attack and have severe shortness of breath or are unable to reach your doctor in a short period, you must call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency department. Do not drive yourself to the hospital. Have a friend or family member drive.
If you are in the emergency room, treatment will be started while the evaluation is still going on.
In certain circumstances, you may need to be admitted to the hospital. There you can be watched carefully and treated should your condition worsen. Conditions for hospitalization include the following:
If you go to the emergency department for an asthma attack, the doctor will first assess how severe the attack is. Attacks are usually classified as mild, moderate, or severe. This assessment is based on several factors:
Mild and moderate attacks usually involve the following symptoms, which may come on gradually:
Severe attacks are less common. They may involve the following symptoms:
If you can speak, the health care provider will ask you questions about your symptoms, your medical history, and your medications. Answer as completely as you can. He or she will also examine you and observe you as you breathe.
If this is your first attack or the first time you have sought medical attention for your symptoms, the health care provider will ask questions and perform tests to search for and rule out other causes of the symptoms.
Measurements of how well you are breathing include the following:
No blood test can pinpoint the cause of asthma.
A chest X-ray may also be taken. This is mostly to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
If your asthma has just been diagnosed, you may be started on a regimen of medications and monitoring. You will be given two types of medications:
Your treatment plan will also include other components:
At your follow-up visits, your health care provider will review how you have been doing.
The peak flow meter is a simple, inexpensive device that measures how forcefully you can exhale.
Together, you and your health care provider will develop an action plan for you in case of an asthma attack. The asthma action plan will include the following:
Since asthma is a chronic disease, treatment goes on for a very long time. Some people have to stay in treatment for the rest of their lives. The best way to improve your condition and live your life on your terms is to learn all you can about your asthma and what you can do to make it better.
These are the goals of treatment:
If you have been treated in a hospital emergency department, you will be discharged once you respond well to the treatment. You may be asked to see your primary care provider or an asthma specialist (allergist or pulmonologist) in the next day or two.
If your symptoms return, or if you begin to feel worse, you should immediately contact your health care provider or return to the emergency department.
If you follow the asthma treatment guidelines, you can help minimize the frequency and severity of your asthma attacks.
Current treatment regimens are designed to minimize discomfort, inconvenience, and the extent to which you have to limit your activities. If you follow your treatment plan closely, you should be able to avoid or reduce your visits to your health care provider or the emergency department.
If you think your medication is not working, let your healthcare provider know right away.
Controller medicines help minimize the inflammation that causes an acute asthma attack.
Rescue medications are taken after an asthma attack has already begun. These do not take the place of controller drugs. Do not stop taking your controller drug(s) during an asthma attack.
Most people with asthma are able to control their condition if they work together with a health care provider and follow their treatment regimen carefully.
People who do not seek medical care or do not follow an appropriate treatment plan are likely to experience worsening of their asthma and deterioration in their ability to function normally.
You need to know how to prevent or minimize future asthma attacks.
Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics
2751 Prosperity Avenue, Suite 150
Fairfax, VA 22031
American Lung Association
61 Broadway, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10006
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
1233 20th St NW, Suite 402
Washington, DC 20636
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