What is asthma?
Children with asthma have inflammation in the small airway passages of their lungs.
This inflammation makes children’s airways sensitive to triggers. Triggers are the things that bring on asthma attacks. When children come into contact with triggers, the muscles around their airway passages tighten up.
When this happens, it’s harder for children to move air through their lungs. This causes wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and uncomfortable breathing.
Causes of asthma
Children who have parents with asthma might get genes from their parents that make it more likely that they’ll get asthma too.
If you, your child’s other parent or other family members have asthma, eczema, hay fever or allergies, there’s an increased chance your child will also have asthma.
Early in life, something switches on a child’s asthma for the first time. This might be:
- a viral infection
- an allergen like pollen, dust mites and animal dander
- something in the environment that irritates the child’s airways.
Once a child’s asthma has been switched on, triggers can cause acute asthma attacks. These triggers vary from child to child.
The most common trigger is a viral infection, usually the common cold. Other triggers include:
- allergens like pollens, dust mites or animal dander
- changes in the weather
- cold air
- cigarette smoke
Children with asthma react to asthma triggers by wheezing, coughing and becoming short of breath.
Exposure to smoke during pregnancy, or to second-hand and third-hand smoke in childhood, can lead to asthma in some children.
Tests for asthma
Doctors might be able to diagnose asthma by looking at your child’s medical history and examining your child. If your child is aged over five years, doctors might also use breathing tests to help in the diagnosis. Allergy testing can also be helpful.
Asthma tests are often arranged by a paediatrician or respiratory specialist.
Facts about asthma
- Asthma is the most common chronic medical condition in children in Australia.
- Asthma affects around one in five children.
- At this stage we don’t know how to stop asthma from developing.