What is Asthma?

Asthma is a common chronic condition that causes your airway to narrow and swell. You may experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing, and wheezing.


Common Causes

The exact etiology of Asthma is still unknown, but health experts believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune factors contribute to the inflammatory response that affects breathing.

  • Family history. Asthma may run in families (inherited). If this is the case in your family, your child may be more likely than other children to develop long-lasting (chronic) inflammation in the bronchial tubes.
  • Immune system. In some children, immune system cells release chemicals that cause inflammation in response to certain substances (allergens) that cause allergic reactions. Studies show that exposure to allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches, and animal dander may influence asthma's development. Asthma is much more common in children with allergies (atopic children), though not all children with allergies develop asthma. And not all children with asthma have allergies.
  • Environment. Environmental factors and today's germ-conscious lifestyle may play a role in the development of asthma. Some experts believe there are more cases of asthma because of pollution and less exposure to certain types of harmful bacteria and other germs. As a result, children's immune systems may develop in a way that makes it more likely they will also develop allergies and asthma.


Signs & Symptoms

The frequency and severity of the symptoms of asthma, and asthma attacks, can vary greatly from person to person.

Symptoms may include:

  • Wheezing - a whistling noise of varying loudness that occurs when the airways of the lungs (bronchial tubes) narrow.
  • Coughing - which is the only symptom for some children.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Shortness of breath - rapid, shallow breathing or difficulty breathing.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Tiring quickly during exercise.


First-Aid for Asthma

The treatment and management of asthma is often an on-going process consisting of lifestyle and medication planning. Acute asthma attacks are best managed with medications including:

  • Inhaled steroids (corticosteroids). These are for long-term treatment of asthma and are usually taken every day. They reduce airway inflammation.
  • Short-acting beta2-agonists and anticholinergics (quick-relief medicines). These are used for asthma attacks. They relax the airways, allowing easier breathing.
  • Oral or injected steroid medicines. These may be used to get asthma under control before a person starts taking daily medicine.


Preventing Asthma

For people who have asthma symptoms during exercise, using asthma-controlling medicine before exercise may help reduce symptoms, especially in cold, dry weather. For these people, some asthma experts recommend the following:

  • Avoid exposure to air pollutants and allergens whenever possible. Exercise indoors when air pollution levels are high.
  • Wear a mask or scarf wrapped around your nose and mouth if you are exercising in cold weather. This may help warm and moisten the air you breathe in.
  • Exercise slowly for the first 10 to 15 minutes.

If a student has exercise-induced asthma, be sure to know when their daily medicines should be given and what to do if they have an asthma attack, especially before and during physical exercise. Their asthma action plan provides this information. School officials need to know the early warning signs of an asthma episode, how medications are used, and how to administer the medications. Physician information should also be included in a student's asthma action plan in more severe cases.

Adapted from:
Asthma in Children. HealthLink BC.