Asthma in Children
Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease in which the airways become sensitive
to allergens (any substance that triggers an allergic reaction). The exact
cause of asthma is not completely known. It is believed to be partially
inherited, but it also involves many other environmental, infectious,
and chemical factors. Several things happen to the airways when a child
is exposed to certain triggers:
- The lining of the airways becomes swollen and inflamed
- The muscles that surround the airways tighten
- The production of mucus is increased, leading to mucus plugs
After a child is exposed to a certain trigger, the body releases histamine
and other agents that can cause inflammation in a child's airways.
The body also releases other factors that can cause the muscles of the
airways to tighten, or become smaller. There is also an increase in mucus
production that may clog the airways. Each child has different triggers
that cause the asthma to worsen. You should discuss this with your child's doctor.
The changes that occur in asthma are believed to happen in two phases:
An immediate response to the trigger leads to swelling and narrowing of
the airways. This makes it initially difficult for your child to breathe.
A delayed response, which can happen four to eight hours after the initial
exposure to the allergen, leads to further inflammation of the airways
and obstruction of airflow.
The following are the most common symptoms of asthma. However, each child
may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Coughing either constant or intermittent.
- Wheezing, a whistling sound that may be heard while your child is breathing.
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath while your child is playing or
- Chest tightness - Your child may say his or her chest hurts or does not
- Nighttime cough
- Noisy breathing
The symptoms of asthma may resemble other problems or medical conditions.
Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.
Allergies are physiological reactions caused when the immune system reacts
to a specific foreign substance (allergen) that has been inhaled, touched,
or eaten by a person. Normally, the human body defends itself against
harmful substances, such as viruses or bacteria, but, sometimes, the defenses
aggressively attack usually innocuous substances such as dust, mold, or
pollen. The immune system generates large amounts of the antibodies called
immunoglobin E (IgE), to attack and destroy the supposed enemy. Each IgE
antibody specifically targets a particular allergen-the substance that
triggers the allergic reaction. In this disease-fighting process, inflammatory
chemicals, such as histamines, cytokines, and leukotrienes are released
or produced, and some unpleasant, and, in extreme cases, life-threatening,
symptoms may be experienced by an allergy-prone person.
A food allergy is an abnormal response of the body to a certain food. It
is important to know that this is different from a food intolerance, which
does not affect the immune system, although some of the same signs may
be present. Food allergy causes an immune system response, causing symptoms
that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Food intolerance does
not affect the immune system, although some symptoms may be the same as
in food allergy.
Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in
children, with wheat, soy, and tree nuts also included. Peanuts, nuts,
fish, and shellfish commonly cause the most severe reactions. Allergic
symptoms may begin within minutes to an hour after ingesting the food.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease,
it does not take much of the food to cause a severe reaction in highly
allergic people. In fact, as little as 1/44,000 of a peanut kernel can
cause an allergic reaction for severely allergic individuals. The symptoms
of a food allergy may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always
consult your doctor for a diagnosis.