For some children with asthma, their first asthmatic experience can be frightening---heavy wheezing, a tight chest, and shortness of breath can quickly catch their active, young bodies off-guard. For others, asthma can present subtly with exercise intolerance or a chronic cough. With recent advances in the management of asthma, this condition can be controlled for even the most energetic of youngsters.
If your child has asthma, he or she is not alone. In the United States, asthma affects 22 million people. It is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Today, 6 million children have asthma.
With the help of their medical care providers, routine monitoring, and proven treatments, they are still able to enjoy vibrant, healthy lives.
Typical changes in the airways include:
Recent research has shown that inflammation of the lining of the airways is the most common feature of asthma. When they are stimulated, certain cells lining the airways produce chemical substances (mediators), which lead to inflammation, and excessive mucus. This causes the airway lining to swell and narrow. The inflammation may last for weeks following an episode. Most people with asthma have some degree of inflammation all of the time. Some long-term control medications can help prevent and reduce inflammation.
Another characteristic of asthma is increased sensitivity of the airways. When inflammation occurs in the airways, the airways become more sensitive (or "twitchy"). When the airways are more sensitive, your child is more likely to have asthma symptoms when exposed to things that make asthma worse. When there is less inflammation, the airways are less sensitive and your child is less likely to have asthma symptoms when exposed to things that make asthma worse.
In addition to inflammation and thick mucus production, further airway obstruction can occur with asthma. This obstruction is caused by tightening of muscles that surround the airways, called bronchospasm. Bronchospasm causes further narrowing of the inflamed airways.
Inhaled quick-relief medications are generally very effective in reversing the bronchospasm.