Common Triggers of Asthma and Asthma Attacks
Asthma can be frightening both for the child experiencing the symptoms and for the parent who has to watch their child struggling for breath. There are some simple steps to follow to successfully manage your child’s asthma. Apart from seeking medical advice to ensure you get just the right medication for them, it’s important to watch out for asthma triggers.
What is Asthma?Asthma is very common among children. It’s estimated that one child in every ten suffers from asthma, although many will grow out of it as they get older. Asthma affects the airways and breathing. An asthma attack happens when the mucous membranes in the airways swell up and muscles begin to contract. As more mucus is produced in the increasingly restricted airways, it starts to become difficult to breath. Asthma attacks can be relatively mild, but they can be life-threatening too, although most children will experience symptoms somewhere in the middle.
What Brings on an Attack?As common as it is, the causes of asthma are still fairly mysterious. It does seem to run in families, and there’s a connection between asthma and other unpleasant conditions like eczema and hay fever. But whatever the underlying causes are, it’s certain that there are triggers that can bring on symptoms. Animal fur, dust mites, exercise and pollen are key triggers of childhood asthma attacks. But remember, every child’s triggers are different – and your child may have more than one trigger. Sometimes children have a delayed reaction to an asthma trigger, so you might need to be extra vigilant to spot it - keep an asthma diary if it helps.
As well as these key triggers, there are two things that are likely to make any child’s asthma worse. Breathing cigarette smoke and catching colds. It’s up to you to minimise the chance of these things happening to your child. Don’t smoke, and don’t allow others to smoke in your house or around your child. When it comes to coughs and colds, nothing’s guaranteed to keep them away, but making sure your child eats a varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and is generally fit will be a big step in the right direction.
Avoiding the Triggers of an Asthma AttackOf course, it’s best to try to help your child avoid things that trigger their asthma attacks, but that’s not always possible.
Animals and AsthmaAnimals and birds are a common trigger of childhood asthma. It’s not just the fur and feathers that can cause a problem, but allergens found in saliva, urine and flakes of skin. Sadly, this kind of trigger will probably mean you have to find new, loving homes for the family pets. If you really can’t bring yourself to do this, and if your child’s asthma is not too severe, then try these precautions:
- Make sure no animals go into your child’s bedroom or lie on the sofa.
- Give cats and dogs a bath a couple of times a week.
- Encourage your child to wash their hands after touching pets - try to get them into the habit, so that they remember when you’re not there to remind them.
Dust Mites and AsthmaIf the thought of dust mites isn’t nasty enough, then knowing that it’s actually their droppings that trigger asthma attacks certainly is. These tiny creatures, invisible to the naked eye, live in house dust – particularly when it’s allowed to build up in carpets, mattresses, duvets, soft furnishings and even cuddly toys. You could reduce your child’s asthma symptoms by:
- Using special covers on your child’s mattress, pillow and bedding and washing sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases at least once a week at 60 degrees.
- Vacuuming frequently with a good quality appliance – but keep your child out of the room as you vacuum in case dust is stirred up.
- Dusting with a damp cloth, not just furniture polish.
- Replacing carpets and rugs with wooden or laminate flooring.
- Using a dehumidifier to dry the air, making it harder for dust mites to survive.
- Putting cuddly toys in the freezer overnight every couple of weeks.
Exercise and AsthmaYou might notice that your child’s asthma is triggered by exercise. But it’s certainly not healthy to discourage physical activity, and there’s no reason your child shouldn’t be able to take part in sports and games as long as you follow these precautions:
- Build up your child’s fitness gradually – a little and often is better than one big blow out now and again.
- Tell other parents and PE teachers about your child’s asthma.
- If your child is old enough, make sure they know they should always let friends they’re playing sports with know about their asthma.
- Make sure your child always has their reliever inhaler available when they exercise if your child starts to show asthma symptoms while exercising, make them stop straight away and don’t let them continue until they’re feeling better again.
Pollen and AsthmaPollen can trigger asthma symptoms in some children, although it’s rare for children under five to have asthma that’s triggered by pollen. If you notice that pollen is a trigger for your child, try to:
- Keep your eye on the pollen count so that you’re aware of days that could pose big problems.
- Talk to your family doctor before the pollen season starts, so that you can get the right medication beforehand.