How To Help Your Child Recognize And Avoid Asthma Triggers

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Does your child have chest tightness, shortness of breath or exercise intolerance? It might not be a stubborn cold that won’t go way — it might be asthma.

Asthma has multiple causes, and it’s not unusual for two or more different causes to be present in one child. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we see a lot of kids with asthma and a lot of worried parents wondering how to treat and/or prevent their child’s asthma. To help kids and their parents know how to manage this challenging condition, we offer the following information, tips and advice.

Diagnosing asthma is not always easy

Mason Gomberg-001R WEB72

Mason Gomberg, MD

It is often difficult, especially in young children, to be entirely certain that asthma is the diagnosis. The following details help us determine if your child does, in fact, have asthma:

  • The type of symptoms: specifically, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, vocal cord dysfunction
  • What triggers the symptoms or when the symptoms get worse
  • Medications that were tried and if they helped
  • Any family history of allergies, asthma or eczema (allergic triad)

After gathering this information, the next thing we do is test your child’s airway function. One way to do this is with a pulmonary function test using a device called a spirometer. This measures the amount of air blown out of the lungs over time.

We may also test your child’s pulmonary function after administering asthma medication. This helps confirm that the blockage in the air passages that shows up on pulmonary function tests goes away with treatment.

Some children do not find relief from their asthma symptoms even after taking medications

If your child’s symptoms do not get better even after taking asthma medications, we may want to test your child for other conditions that can make wheezing worse. He/she does not have asthma but another condition.

It is important to remember that asthma is a complicated disease to diagnose, and the results of airway function testing may be normal even if your child has asthma. Also keep in mind that not all children with repeated episodes of wheezing have asthma. Some children are born with small lungs and their air passages may get blocked by infections. As their lungs grow, eventually they will no longer wheeze after an infection.

Certain factors, called triggers, cause asthma “attacks” or make asthma worse

You should check all of your child’s “environments,” such as school, child care, and relatives’ homes, for exposure to these triggers.

Here are some common asthma triggers:

  1. Allergens (things your child might be allergic to). Most children with asthma have allergies, and allergies are a major cause of asthma symptoms.
  • House dust mites
  • Animal dander
  • Cockroaches
  • Mold
  • Pollens
  1. Infections of the airways
  • Viral infections of the nose and throat
  • Other infections, such as pneumonia or sinus infections
  1. Irritants in the environment (outside or indoor)
  • Cigarette/cigar smoke and other smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Cold air and/or dry air
  • Odors, fragrances, irritating compounds in sprays, and cleaning products
  • Wood burning stoves in the winter
  1. Exercise. Approximately 80% of people with asthma develop wheezing, coughing and a tight feeling in the chest when they exercise.
  1. Stress

How to help your child avoid asthma triggers

While it is impossible to make your house completely allergen or irritant-free, there are many things you can do to reduce your child’s exposure to triggers and limit the severity of a possible asthma attack. In addition, limiting your child’s exposure to triggers will help decrease symptoms as well as the need for asthma medications.

In addition, your child’s pediatrician can teach your child how to perform a peak flow meter test at home. This gives you and your child a way to monitor symptoms at home and provides guidelines as part of an asthma action plan.

We at Westchester Health Pediatrics recommend the following tips:

  1. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child.
  2. Reduce exposure to dust mites. The best way to do this is to cover your child’s mattress and pillows with special allergy-proof casings, wash his/her bedding in hot water every 1-2 weeks, remove stuffed toys from the bedroom, and vacuum and dust regularly. Other avoidance measures, which are more difficult or expensive, include reducing the humidity in the house with a dehumidifier or removing carpeting in the bedroom. Bedrooms in basements should not be carpeted.
  3. If your child is allergic to furry pets, the only really effective means of reducing exposure to pet allergens is to remove the pets from your home. If this is not possible, keep the pets out of your child’s bedroom and consider: putting a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in his/her bedroom, removing the carpeting, covering mattress and pillows with mite-proof casings, and washing the pets regularly.
  4. Reduce cockroach infestation by regularly exterminating, setting roach traps, repairing holes in walls or other entry points, and not leaving food or garbage exposed.
  5. Mold in homes is often due to excessive moisture indoors, which can result from water damage due to flooding, leaky roofs, leaking pipes or excessive humidity. It’s important to repair any sources of water leakage and to control indoor humidity by using exhaust fans in the bathrooms and kitchen. Add a dehumidifier in areas with high humidity. Clean any mold contamination with detergent and water. You may need to replace porous materials (such as wallboards) if they have become contaminated with mold.
  6. Pollen exposure can be reduced by using an air conditioner in your child’s bedroom (with the vent closed) and leaving doors and windows closed during high pollen times.
  1. Reduce indoor irritants by using unscented cleaning products and avoiding mothballs, room deodorizers and scented candles.
  1. Diligently check air quality reports (radio weather forecasts or on the internet). When air quality is poor, keep your child indoors and be sure he/she takes the prescribed asthma control medications.

Worried that your child may have asthma? Come see us, we’re here to help.

If you think your child might have asthma, or if you want guidance for managing his/her asthma and the triggers that make it worse, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics. One of our pediatricians will diagnose whether or not your child does indeed have asthma and if so, we will decide on the best course of treatment.

Our #1 goal is for you and your child to be as informed as possible about this serious health condition so that you can better manage it and help your child live a healthy, happy life. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Mason Gomberg, MD, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics

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About the Author: ML Ball