Dr Baridah Dardari, Paediatrics and Neonatology Consultant at Al Zahra Hospital talks to us about diagnosing asthma and the importance of having an action plan in place for your child when an attack occurs
What is asthma exactly?
It’s a long term lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways because they become sore and swollen. The inflammation of the airways makes them sensitive and twitchy and this results in a spasm. Asthma is a multifactorial disorder which means it is an interaction between the genes and environmental factors such as allergies and viral infections. The tendency to develop asthma is often inherited, which means it can be more common in certain families. More often than not asthma starts during childhood so it is important to be aware of the symptoms so your child can be treated accordingly and as quickly as possible.
What signs should parents look for if they think their child has asthma?
Diagnosing asthma can be difficult and time-consuming because different children can have very different patterns of symptoms. For example, some kids cough at night but seem fine during the day, while others seem to get frequent chest colds that don’t go away. Other signs you can look out for are recurring periods of wheezing or a whistling sound when they breathe. Your child might also complain of having a tight chest or shortness of breath and coughing. Symptoms are often worse at night or early in the morning so try to be extra vigilant at these times.
Do you have any tips or advice for parents who have children with asthma?
Yes, asthma comes in three forms – mild, moderate or severe. It is very important for you to know what form of asthma your child has, and what you need to be ready in the event of an attack. A mild asthmatic only needs rescue medication during an asthma attack, whereas moderate or severe asthmatics should be taking maintenance medication every day as well as rescue medication during attacks. It’s important to remember that many children with asthma can breathe normally for weeks or months between asthma attacks. When an attack does occur, they often seem to happen without warning, so it is important for parents to try and pinpoint what triggers their child’s asthma, such as hay fever or a reaction to pet hair for example.
How can parents help their children recognise and understand the condition and help them learn how to deal with it?
It is very important for parents, paediatricians and teachers to educate children who have asthma. The more information they have the better they will understand the condition and learn how to deal with it. It is also important for children with asthma to learn the warning signs of a asthma attack, this means they will know what to do and to ask for help should this come about. It often helps working with pictures and diagrams to explain what asthma is. One other important point is that your child needs to understand his or her asthma plan so that they know when medicine should be taken.
What should I do if my child is having a serious asthma attack?
An attack is usually caused by an environmental trigger such as dust, a cold or second hand smoke, this then starts a cascade of events in the child’s airways causing airways to narrow which then leads to breathing difficulties. Most children are unable to recognize warning signs for themselves, so you should keep an eye out for common symptoms such as a continuous cough, difficulty breathing, change in colour, fatigue, retraction of chest muscles and shortness of breath. If your child is having difficulty breathing, passes out, is wheezing immediately after medicine and no change after 10 minutes then you should call 999 immediately.
Are there any extra precautions you should be taking in the summer?
The most important thing is to make sure your child’s asthma plan is up to date, and that your child always has their inhaler or emergency medication on them. Another thing parents can do is, before getting into a car, leave the doors open with the air conditioning on for a few minutes – this will get the air circulating and help get rid of the dust mites and mould spores that can trigger an asthma attack.