Asthma: activities that increase your child’s risk for asthma attacks
Posted on 1 May 2018
Asthma is the third leading cause of the hospitalisation of children in South Africa, today. But many children who are affected lead a completely normal life, provided their asthma is correctly diagnosed, treated and controlled.
Asthma is an incurable, chronic condition of the airways that tends to be more prevalent among young children, people with a family history of asthma, and those with other allergy-related disorders like eczema and allergic rhinitis.
Asthma can be more specifically defined by:
- Recurrent attacks of reversible airway obstruction or wheezing
- Airway inflammation
- Airway hyperresponsiveness (bronchospasm)
The airways of asthmatics are hypersensitive to certain triggers (including allergens like dust, pollen, animal dander, other factors like tobacco smoke, cold weather and upper respiratory tract infections like a common cold, sinusitis, or influenza) that cause overreaction and narrowing of the airways and could lead to an asthma attack.
Other allergic symptoms mean your child is at greater risk
Because early symptoms – which include coughing, runny nose, itchy eyes, etc. – can resemble other conditions like allergies or bronchitis, the disorder often goes undiagnosed in children. Asthma develops as the final step in the so-called Allergic March [The term describes how allergic diseases progress throughout the life of an allergic individual often starting with eczema, leading to allergic rhinitis and eventually asthma].
‘Asthma is commonly under-diagnosed because children usually present to our surgeries when they suffer from an acute upper respiratory tract infection and therefore it is quite hard to distinguish between the infection and asthma. A proper and detailed history (especially in children who recurrently present with infections) provides all the clues. Nighttime coughing and getting tired quite quickly when playing sport are also telltale signs, as is a history of wheezing. With a strong history, it is important to prove (with lung function testing) that the obstruction is partially reversible to rule out other obstructive lung diseases,’ says Dr Owen Wiese a General Practitioner at Intercare Tygervalley and presenter of the TV show Dokter-Dokter on VIA Channel 147.
Once diagnosed, your child’s physician will put together an asthma action plan that includes preventive care, monitoring, and that identities triggers and allergens to avoid.
Five daily activities to avoid
- Not following your child’s asthma plan
The best way to avoid an asthma attack is to make sure your asthma is well controlled in the first place.
Proper management is an important component in your child leading a normal life with asthma. This means following a written asthma plan to track his symptoms and adjust his medication.
You may not be able to eliminate his risk of an asthma attack, but he’s less likely to have one if his current treatment keeps his asthma under control. This includes taking inhaled medications as prescribed in his written asthma plan.
Another recommendation is to keep an asthma diary to identify any new triggers and see if the current plan is effective.
- Exercising outside at the wrong time
Exercise is a common trigger and in some cases may be the only trigger for some children (i.e. exercise-induced asthma). But exercise shouldn’t be avoided as it has many benefits for asthmatics including:
- reduced symptoms
- improved breathing
- decreased stress and anxiety
Your doctor will be able to tell you what your child should do before, during and after exercise. A major trigger is exercising outdoors in cold weather especially when air pollution is high or pollen counts are high. In these instances, outdoor exercise should possibly be avoided depending on the severity of the condition.
- Smoking or being in contact with any form of smoke (including smoke from fires)
Tobacco smoke is one of the most common triggers for asthma attacks. Smoking has also been linked to asthma in babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy as well as teenagers and adults who smoke (adult-onset asthma). Children who are around people who smoke also have a higher chance of getting asthma early in life.
It’s a good idea to forbid smoking in your home and car and don’t allow your child to be in smoky environments, including around the braai or fireplace.
This sounds counter-intuitive, especially as dust mites, pet dander, and cockroach waste are common triggers for attacks. But certain cleaning products can also irritate your child’s airways.
Consider switching to unscented or non-aerosol versions of your current products if you find they worsen your child’s asthma.
- Airing the house
Fresh air at the wrong time (i.e. when pollution or pollen counts are high or in extremely dry or humid weather conditions) can trigger an asthmatic response in your child. Use an air cleaner in your home and, if you have one, run the air conditioning often and clean the filter regularly.