Childhood asthma is detected in 20% of children in Singapore – a shocking statistic that is as real as it gets.
1 in 5 children is diagnosed with asthma, and your child can be one of them. Deterrence and treatments are plentiful if you look it up on the web. The real question is, how do parents seek out correct information that actually helps them understand childhood asthma?
We’re happy to have an interview session with Dr Jenny Tang, Paediatrician of SBCC Baby & Child Clinic (Asthma, Lung, Sleep and Allergy Centre). We hope that this interview would provide parents with a more guided and holistic approach to address asthma-related problems in their children.
Q: Can my child contract childhood asthma? What are the triggers of asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of airways that can present as wheezing, chronic cough, shortness of breath and sometimes chest pain. These symptoms characteristically vary over time in intensity.
Childhood asthma is caused by the interaction of genetic tendency for asthma with the environment. The following factors contribute to the likelihood of childhood asthma:
- Family history or a genetic tendency for asthma
- Contracting some types of airway infections at a very young age e.g. RSV or Rhinovirus
- Exposure to environmental factors such as cigarette smoke or smoke haze
- Sensitisation to environmental allergens e.g. house dust mites
Triggers resulting in asthma attacks may differ in each child, some common triggers include:
- Viral infections such as the common cold or flu
- Environmental allergens such as dust mites, pollen, animal dander and mould
- Changes in temperature or humidity
- Irritants in the air including pollutants, cigarette smoke and smoke haze
- Physical activities, especially in children with uncontrolled asthma
- Negative reactions to pharmaceutical medications such as painkillers e.g. aspirins
Q: I suspect that my child has asthma. Are there any tests that can be done to support the diagnosis of asthma?
Doctors often conduct lung function tests and allergy tests to support the diagnosis of asthma. This is helpful especially when the diagnosis is uncertain. Sometimes, special lung function tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis of asthma. Examples include an exercise test or airway provocation test.
Allergy tests and lung function tests for older children are available at most major hospitals and specialist clinics. Younger children aged 2 to 3 years can be diagnosed at children’s hospitals and child asthma specialist centres.
Q: What are some medications doctors can prescribe for the treatment of asthma?
There are two main groups: one is for rescue and quick relief, and the other is more to control the symptoms of asthma. Quick-relief medications usually come in the form of a blue inhaler called Salbutamol MDI, most often to treat acute symptoms of asthma e.g. coughing, wheezing and breathlessness when needed.
The controller or preventive medications are used to treat the underlying inflammation of asthma, so as to control the symptoms and reduce asthma attacks. These long-term medications typically control steroids and if prescribed should be used daily even when well. Alternative types of asthma controller treatments for children include anti-leukotrienes which are taken orally.
Q: Is long-term management of asthma expensive?
Depending on the severity of your child’s asthma and the type of medication required, costs of long-term management may add up. Asthma is a life-long condition, so it is important to speak with your doctor on how you can manage the expenses for your child’s asthma and discuss options for financial assistance.
Q: How can I treat and manage my child’s asthma?
Managing your child’s asthma can be easy and effective as long as you work with your doctor to determine what works best for your child. Here are 5 easy ways to help manage your child’s asthma;
- Identify and minimise contact with asthma triggers.
Share the types of environmental allergens with your doctor to improve the course of treatment. The doctor may also run some tests (for example, skin prick tests or blood tests) to identify potential allergens and advise appropriate avoidance measures.
- Understand and take medication as prescribed by your doctor.
Good understanding helps to prevent potential attacks and improve your child’s quality of life and lung function in the long-term.
- Recognise the signs of asthma and what to do when it gets worse.
Parents can recognise the signs of asthma with a written asthma action plan from the doctor to manage mild asthma flare-ups at home and determine when to visit a doctor if symptoms worsen.
- Attend regular reviews with your doctor.
Regular reviews are important for your doctor to assess the control of asthma, check inhaler techniques and adjust the medications as needed. These reviews can discuss questions and concerns for optimal management and control of asthma.
- Prevent influenza yearly with vaccinations.
The vaccines will help prevent your child from contracting the influenza infection that can trigger serious asthma flare-ups.
We’d like to thank Dr Jenny Tang of Healthway Medical Group once again for taking time off to share her advice with all our readers! Got any questions for us or Dr Tang, or want to find out more? Comment down below or email us at [email protected]