Treating Childhood Asthma

By Briana Vannozzi

For kids between the ages of 5 to 18 years old, asthma is the leading cause of hospital stays and school absences. For 7-year-old Aaliyah Martinez, it started with a bad cold and severe cough.

“I didn’t know what else to do so I took her to the emergency room and that’s when she was having problems breathing,” said mom Trisha Martinez.

That was three years ago.

“They actually admitted her and she was staying there, for about five days she had to stay there. And they told us she was having asthma reactions,” Martinez said.

“What happens during asthma, airways, the breathing tubes get red and swollen and it is hard for the patient to breathe in,” said Dr. Archana Singh.

Dr. Singh is the head of pediatric pulmonology and cystic fibrosis at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick. She says it’s very common to see asthma start around the preschool age because kids are most vulnerable for viral illnesses.

“The body tries to react to the viral illness and the body produces certain chemicals that itself reacts on the lungs and start having difficulty breathing and wheezing,” Dr. Singh said.

Dr. Singh explains the other most common asthma triggers indoors include pets, dust and dust mites in the home, secondhand smoke, food allergies and perfumes, sprays and cleaning products. Outdoors, heavy air pollution, pollen, grass and ragweed are typically the culprits.

Doctors say there are two red flags parents should be aware of — difficulty breathing or coughing after play and not being able to keep up in activities with their peers. Also nighttime coughing, particularly if it wakes them up.

“Now everything is more stabilized where she wasn’t missing too much because back then she was missing like 18 days of school,” Martinez said.

As is the case for many kids unless they get proper treatment.

“One is daily control medication and the other is a rescue medication,” Dr. Singh said.

For very small children, nebulizers are used first. After that, a daily controller medication is given to prevent attacks and inhalers are used for acute ones. Doctors stress working with the school to create an asthma action plan.

“I bring the medication to the school to the nurse with that form and they keep it there so when she does her activities, 20 minutes before she goes down there and she takes the medicine before any activities,” Martinez said.

When treated correctly and maintained, asthma should have no interference with day-to-day routines. But it can be life threatening and doctors here say to seek immediate medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen.