Watch for different severities of asthma

DR. MARY BLAIR Health Columnist The Greenwood Commonwealth

My child is constantly coughing at night. He has difficulty with running and playing outside. Any increased activity makes him winded. I often hear a high-pitched sound when he is breathing. If your child has any of these symptoms, he or she may have a condition called asthma.

Asthma is a condition where a person’s airways become swollen and tight causing difficulty with breathing. In order to understand asthma, we must know the effects, the degrees of severity and effective and proper management of the disease.

In order to understand asthma, we must understand what is happening to our bodies. Our lungs are made of variable-sized tunnels that allow air to be exchanged. With asthma, those airways become swollen or inflamed and constrict or tighten.  There are many different environmental factors that can trigger this response. One common trigger is allergens, such as pollen, pet dander and insect waste. Other triggers may be viral or bacterial illnesses, dust, exercise or tobacco smoke.

Asthma is a disease that has different severities. It can be classified as intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent or severe persistent.

Intermittent is coughing or wheezing occurring one to two nights a month or less than two days a week. Mild persistent is complications three to four nights a month or three to six days a week. Moderate persistent is greater than one night a week and daily coughing and wheezing with two or more asthma exacerbations in a six-month period. Severe persistent is daily complications with several asthma exacerbations during a year.

Asthma can be properly managed once the patient is aware of the severity of the disease and what triggers the disease.

There are several important factors to know when managing asthma. It is very important to understand the medications used to treat the disease. Once started on medication, a person should not stop unless advised by a doctor. It is also important to avoid triggers when possible. There are two main types of medications used to treat asthma, bronchodilators (short acting and long acting) and steroids (inhaled and oral).

Other classes of medications are also used to help with the inflammation as well. A child is usually started on albuterol, which is a short acting bronchodilator. If albuterol is required more than two days a week, an inhaled corticosteroid will be added for daily use. The goal is to obtain the most control and decrease the use of the bronchodilators. It is important to meet all follow-up appointments with your doctor, especially in the early stages of diagnosis.

This is just a description of basic asthma management.  There are other medications that aid in the treatment of asthma and can be further discussed with your doctor.

Asthma is a complicated disease and requires good parent and doctor relationships.  Children must be given their medicines as prescribed everyday, even when they seem to be doing well. Understand what you are giving your child. Come up with an asthma action plan with your doctor. Avoid the common triggers, and follow up regularly until your child has obtained control.

Children that have more severe cases may need other medications to aid in treatment. Specialists, such as allergists and pulmonologists, are also helpful in more difficult cases.

Asthma is a treatable disease. Children can be active and live productive lives if their asthma is under control.  If you have more questions about asthma, please contact your child’s pediatrician.

• Dr. Mary Blair is a pediatrician with the Greenwood Children’s Clinic. Email your questions to mblair@glh.org.