The news about children and asthma is both good and bad. Better treatments have banished the stereotype of the asthmatic child as frail and inactive, heavily relying on an inhaler to breathe. Children with asthma are now living active, independent lives.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to make sure that the drugs and devices used to treat asthma—a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways—are safe and effective.
The bad news is that the number of reported cases of asthma in children has been rising. In 2010, there were 7 million children with asthma, 9.4% of Americans under 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from 6.5 million, or 8.9%, in 2005.
One reason may be that doctors are diagnosing more kids; illnesses once known as bronchitis or a croupy cough are now being recognized as asthma. Its symptoms may include coughing, wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness and shortness of breath, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Uncontrolled asthma can lead to chronic lung disease and a poor quality of life, and may slow growth. Benjamin Ortiz, M.D., a medical officer in FDA’s Office of Pediatric Therapeutics, recommends that parents work with a pediatrician, and an allergist or pulmonologist (lung specialist) if needed, to develop and follow an asthma action plan that details the treatment options when certain symptoms occur.
“We know what makes asthma worse or better, but don’t know the primary cause,” Ortiz says. The things that make asthma worse are known as “triggers.” They include:
- Season and climate changes
- High levels of air pollutants
- Tobacco smoke
- Mites, roaches
- Plant pollen
- Pet dander
- Strong scents, like perfumes
In addition, certain factors may increase a child’s risk of developing asthma:
- Family history of asthma
- Multiple episodes of wheezing before age 2
- Living in crowded housing
- A family member who smokes
- Early development of allergies or eczema