How Does Asthma Occur?
Ask your child what he least likes about asthma, and he'll likely respond that it's when it seems hard for him to breathe sometimes — maybe like trying to suck air from a straw. Or maybe he will complain that his chest hurts or that he can't catch his breath. It may seem scary for him — and you.
Asthma affects the bronchial tubes, which are also called airways. As your child probably knows, when he breathes normally, air is pulled into his nose and mouth. It then goes into the windpipe or trachea, through the airways, and into the lungs. In the lungs, oxygen is delivered that goes through the blood stream and out to the rest of the body. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide is removed and then exhaled through the airways back out again.
Individuals with asthma have airways that become inflamed. In addition to producing a thick layer of mucus, they swell and become sensitive to certain stimuli, called triggers, such as viruses that cause colds, mold, pollen, household dust, exercise, fragrances, air pollutants, secondhand tobacco smoke, or wood smoke. This reaction causes the smooth muscles that line the airways to constrict — making it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs.
With asthma, breathing difficulties can happen periodically. When this occurs, your child is having what can be referred to as an asthma attack, flare-up, or episode. Without a short-term quick-relief medication, these attacks can last for several hours.
Between the attacks, your child's breathing can seem normal. Other times, though, it may be accompanied by various symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or nasal congestion. Sometimes, it may only appear when doing physical exercise or, more commonly, it can appear during the night — disrupting your child's sleep.
Many daily long-term control medications have been introduced in recent years to help prevent the swelling and inflammation of those airways and stop the occurrence of asthma flare-ups.