Asthma, a chronic lung disease, is accompanied by symptoms like wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. During an asthma attack, the sides of the airways swell, and the airways shrink, making it harder to breathe. Children suffering with asthma often experience fear and anxiety, along with the physical symptoms — especially when not with parents.
Once considered rare, asthma is now a common disease in childhood with roughly 6 million children impacted in the U.S. alone. Respiratory therapist Fuanmbai Turay told the Informer that small children may be more sensitive to environmental triggers of asthma and therefore, parents should ensure they have an action plan for the child whether at school or at home.
“Children naturally want to run and play or may have a favorite blanket or toy that they latch onto that has not been cleaned in years that trigger breathing difficulties — or full attacks,” Turay said. “The goal is to ensure that children entering school are able to communicate their discomfort to teachers and other staff.”
The American Lung Association advises that children with asthma need a bronchodilator (or rescue inhaler) — like Albuterol — to treat coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath that occur with symptoms or an asthma attack. Rescue inhalers should be with asthmatic chidlren at all times for use at the first sign of symptoms. Some children may require an anti-inflammatory as well, to manage swelling of the bronchial tubes and prevent flare-ups.
Turay said that as many young children and teens travel to school daily without a parent, it is important that they understand what environmental agents can trigger attacks.
“Triggers can be almost anything, because all children are different. One client experienced breathing difficulty on morning commutes on public transportation when she encountered lots of perfumes, hair sprays, and deodorizers while on closed-in subway cars; another encountered dangers doing research surrounded by moldy books in the stacks of a library,” Turay said. “When you also factor in things like second-hand cigarette smoke, pollen, pet dander, and abrupt changes in the weather, a child must be prepared to fight for their breath at any moment.”
Asthma remains one of the leading causes of missed time from school and work. Severe asthma attacks may require emergency room visits or hospitalizations and can be fatal. And while asthma impacts children of all ethnic groups, Black children are 4 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for asthma, compared to non-Hispanic white children.
A study presented at the 2017 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) annual meeting called “Where Do Children with Asthma Die? A National Perspective from 2003 to 2014” addressed where and which demographics of children faced death related to asthma in the United States.
The researchers used National Center for Health Statistics data to examine 2,571 pediatric asthma deaths between 2003 and 2014 and found that the mortality rate among Black children was six times higher than among Hispanic or white children.
“Deaths from asthma, especially among children, are sentinel events that can be avoided with timely interventions,” said Anna Chen Arroyo, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and lead author of the study. “Studying the location of asthma deaths provides important insight that can help target efforts to prevent future deaths.”
Turay stressed the importance of teachers, school administrators, and childcare providers being made aware of a child’s asthma and ways to manage it in the absence of the parent.
“I recommend parents have what is known as an Asthma Action Plan that lists known triggers, medications, and contact information for parents in case of an attack,” Turay said. “Some children are too young to recognize what is happening, while others may be under duress and unable to help themselves, so we all play a part in helping our children breathe better.”