Asthma stands as a unique diagnosis in the pediatric population due to how often it is found in the general population as well as the potential for significant complications associated with symptoms suddenly worsening.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, asthma affects approximately one out of every 12 children in the United States. In addition, asthma as a diagnosis has been steadily on the rise over the past 20 to 30 years. With statistics like these it is safe to say that anyone reading this article knows at least one child with asthma.
By definition, asthma is a chronic inflammation of the small airways in the lungs which leads to blockage of air flow while breathing. To meet the definition, symptoms must have been present for at least six weeks. These symptoms can include a persistent cough, cough after exercise, frequent night time cough, difficulty keeping up with peers during physical exertion and wheezing (a musical, high pitched sound). Children with asthma often have a history of eczema (a skin condition) or allergic rhinitis (chronic runny nose), and frequently have a family history of asthma.
Symptoms suggestive of an asthma attack include such things as:
Chest tightness, difficulty getting full breaths, difficulty talking in full sentences, difficulty with feeds or eating in babies, and retractions (sucking in of the ribs and neck while breathing in).
These symptoms are indications that the child needs immediate medical attention and should never be ignored.
Unfortunately, there is no one symptom that defines asthma, and a child may only display one or two of these symptoms, making the diagnosis difficult both for the parents and doctors to recognize. In addition, symptoms are often associated with specific triggers which vary among individuals. Some of the more common asthma triggers include exercise, seasonal allergies, food allergies, changes in seasons or temperatures, viral illnesses like common cold, irritant exposures (including cigarette smoke, perfumes, dust and strong vapors), stress, drugs and for some patients, even strong emotions.
Any parent who has concerns their child may be exhibiting symptoms consistent with asthma should seek a medical evaluation from the child’s primary care manager. Parents should be prepared to answer questions regarding these symptoms and anticipate that coming to a full diagnosis may take time, additional testing and multiple visits to the clinic.
Once diagnosed, children are initially monitored closely by their PCM every few weeks to adjust medications, answer questions and provide ongoing asthma education. As the patient’s symptoms become well controlled these visits are spaced out to every three to six months.
With patient education and the right asthma management plan, patients and families can learn to control asthma and its symptoms more independently, allowing them to live full and uninhibited lives.
The 56th Medical Group provides a wide variety of programs and services for the diagnosis and treatment of asthma. Our approach is multidisciplinary, providing customized care based on the child’s individual needs.
For more information and resources, call the child’s primary care manager at (623) 856-2273.