What is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition of the small airways. Children with asthma have sensitive airways that are easily irritated by a number of things called triggers.

The triggers cause swelling and inflammation of the lining of the airways and tightening of the muscles around the airways. This makes it hard for air to flow in and out of the lungs.


Facts about Asthma

  • People of all ages have asthma.
  • It is the most common chronic disease in children, affecting 1 in 10 children.
  • Many children who develop asthma, have symptoms that started when they were under five years old.
  • Asthma runs in families, but many people with asthma have no other family members affected.

Symptoms of Asthma

The symptoms of asthma in children can vary. Young children may have subtle symptoms such as a cough especially at night, colds going to the chest and shortness of breath with play or exercise. More severe symptoms include chest tightness and difficulty in breathing.


How is Asthma Diagnosed

Your doctor will take a detailed history and examination of your child. Most children with asthma have had symptoms for a long time. If your doctor suspects asthma, a blowing test will be done to check your lung function. It measures how fast you can blow the air out of the lungs. If it is low asthma can be diagnosed.

In children under five, where a blowing test is not possible, the diagnosis of asthma is more difficult. The diagnosis is usually made from a good history and examination, followed by a trial of asthma therapy.


Asthma Triggers

The most common triggers are:

  • Viruses
  • Exercise
  • Allergies to aero-allergens (allergens that we breath in the environment) eg. Pets, dust mites and smoke.

If asthma is not well controlled, it may flare up from time to time.


Asthma Treatments

Asthma can't be prevented or cured. Although many children will outgrow asthma, this is less likely if symptoms are still present after the age of five. The aim of treatment is to keep the lungs healthy so that your child can live a normal life.

The treatment of asthma is in the form of inhaled medication. There are two types of treatment – controllers and relievers.

Controllers prevent asthma symptoms. Eg. Flixotide, Alvesco and Budeflam. The commonest controllers are steroids. They reduce the risk of an asthma attack by decreasing the inflammation (swelling) in the lungs. They take about two weeks to start working and must be used every day, even if you are well.

Relievers work immediately by relaxing the muscles of the airways. Eg. Ventolin and Asthavent. They should only be used when symptoms are present. If needed more than two times a week, then your child's asthma is not well controlled and you should consult with your doctor.



 These articles have been written by Paediatrician and Pulmonologist, Dr Salome Abbott (MBBCh (Wits), FCPaed(SA), MMed(Paed), DipAllerg(SA), Dip Paed Resp Med (Europe), Cert Paed Pulmonology(SA))

Dr Abbott currently has a private practice at Vincent Pallotti and Kingsbury Hospitals in Cape Town. The focus of her practice is treating children with respiratory diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and other chronic lung problems. Tel: 021 506 5228 or for full contact details please CLICK HERE