Spring has sprung and so have allergy flare-ups, especially here in the Ohio Valley. However, what you think might be seasonal allergies could be asthma, a disease of the bronchial tubes that often is triggered by allergies.
“During an asthma episode or ‘attack,’ the airways tighten, become swollen or inflamed, and produce thick mucus, making it difficult for air to move freely,” said Elizabeth VanCleave, R.N., retired asthma educator at Norton Children’s Hospital.
It is easy to mistake the signs and symptoms of asthma for a cold, allergies or other respiratory issue. While allergies often trigger asthma, the condition often goes undiagnosed because the symptoms may be hard for parents and physicians to recognize.
Asthma attacks can be triggered by many environmental factors, including dust in your home, pets, mold and intense exercise, among others.
Could it be asthma?
• Does your child cough a lot at night or in the morning?
• Does your child wheeze or cough while exercising or playing?
• When exposed to dust, allergens, smoke or strong odors, does your child wheeze, cough or experience chest tightness?
• When your child has a cold, does it settle in the chest and take more than 10 days to clear up?
• Do you have to give your child cough medicine more than once a month?
• Has your child had pneumonia or bronchitis more than once in any given year?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, your child may have asthma.
“It’s best to talk to your pediatrician first before self-diagnosing,” VanCleave said. “He or she may refer you to a pediatric specialist to determine next steps and treatment.”
Connect with a Norton Children’s Medical Associates pediatrician near you
The National Institutes of Health asthma guidelines recommend that children with moderate to severe asthma be tested to identify allergic triggers. Once the triggers are identified, an avoidance plan can be made and allergy shots may be prescribed.
“Treatment for children who have asthma varies depending on the severity of their condition,” VanCleave said. “Inhalers are very commonly prescribed to aid in the case of an attack, and control daily symptoms.”
According to James L. Sublett, M.D., allergy and immunology physician with Family Allergy & Asthma, for quick relief, short-acting inhaled bronchodilators are used for coughing, wheezing and before exercise. Many children also need controller medications, which may be taken in pill form or in the form of inhaled corticosteroids.
For more severe, or difficult to control, asthma, there are now medications that target immune pathways that lead to asthma flares.
“It is also important to note that children do not outgrow asthma and will need treatment to control symptoms, however allergy shots can change the course of the disease,” Dr. Sublett said.