Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the patient’s airways. It is marked by inflammation of the airways, such that it proves obstructive to breathing. While the exact cause of asthma is not known, studies indicate that it occurs as a result of an allergic reaction to common components in the air we breathe – such as pollen grains, dust, etc. – that do not affect normal people otherwise. That is why the airways are said to be 'hyperactive'.
The condition is quite troublesome to deal with, even as an adult. But it can be extremely painful and dangerous when it's a baby or a young child who is affected. On May 2, World Asthma Day, let's take note of the warning signs of asthma that every parent must know to safeguard their baby.
Why Every Mother Should Be Concerned
Asthma is said to be cause by two main factors – genetic factors and environmental factors. This allows classification of asthma into two broad categories: early-onset and late-onset.
While asthma caused by environmental factors (such as pollen grains, dust, certain microorganisms, many organic and inorganic chemical compounds, etc.) typically sets in after 12 years of age (late-onset), it is believed that asthma that has a genetic factor can set in even before a child turns 5 years old, and sometimes even in infancy (early-onset).
It is also believed that certain kinds of lifestyle habits can trigger asthma, especially if there is a history of asthma in the family. Smoking during pregnancy, level of air pollution in immediate environment of the baby can also trigger asthma.
6 Hallmark Signs of Asthma in Babies
As a mother, the above marks ample reason for you to watch out for the following 6 hallmark signs of asthma in your baby.
1. Constant Wheezing and Coughing
This is the easiest sign to spot. Your baby could be lying peacefully after a feed, or he could be awake and playing with you. Coughing that sets in once, just doesn't seem to stop, no matter what you try. If such coughing episodes are regular and frequent, consult your paediatrician immediately.
2. Aggravated Coughing at Night
While there is no documented reason or cause for this, it has been observed that asthma patients, especially babies, go from bad to worse at night. The coughing and wheezing becomes severe and more frequent at night time.
3. Other Allergies
If your baby is allergic to any of other common known allergens, chances are high that he could also develop asthma. In these, cases of eczema are especially indicated as a high-risk factor.
4. Low Birth Weight
Babies that had low birth weight are prone to asthma caused especially by environmental factors. Part of this is due to the fact that the baby's body is not strong enough to mount a proper immune response to common substances it is exposed to, and ends up mounting an allergic response instead.
5. Environmental Factors
Two of these have been particularly highlighted: cigarette smoke, and heavy air pollution. Both are closely linked to babies developing asthma right from infancy.
6. Family History
Asthma is an inheritable disease. Chances are high that a baby will develop asthma if either parent has asthma, or if a twin has asthma. There are certain genes that predispose babies to developing asthma: these genes, when exposed to certain environmental factors, result in the baby developing asthma.
What To Do If Your Child Shows These Asthma Symptoms
If your child shows any of the above symptoms without another possible/diagnosed cause, it is likely that he could be suffering from asthma. It is recommended that you consult the paediatrician at the earliest to seek appropriate treatment.
The good news for parents is that asthma can now be largely controlled with medication. In fact, little babies and toddlers can also take most asthma medications prescribed for older children and adults, with a smaller dosage. Your doctor is likely to prescribe inhaled medications (through an inhaler) as they act more rapidly to relieve symptoms and also have minimal side effects. As parents, it is also important that we take steps to prevent an asthma attack, and reduce the likelihood of symptoms from showing. Please take the following precautions:
- Use allergen-proof covers for your baby's pillows, mattress, bedsheets, etc. Also try and wash all these items weekly in warm, baby-friendly detergent to ensure they are germ-free and dust-free
- Be extra careful with your baby's stuffed animals. Make sure you wash his favourite ones on a weekly basis
- While introducing solids/new foods to your child, be slow and gradual. Also observe your child carefully to see if there is any adverse reaction to the food. This is particularly important for foods known to trigger allergies, such as peanut butter, fish, and soy products
- Stay away from chemical-based air purifiers as they may contain allergens. Stick to natural air fresheners that are safe for babies
- Do not allow smoking in the house - at all. This is applicable for all households with children, whether or not they have shown an asthma risk. This is because, as per experts, there is no safe level of cigarette smoke exposure in children
If your child is diagnosed with asthma, please remember that this doesn't mean he will suffer from the condition for a lifetime. As children’s airways mature, they are able to handle this condition much better. In many children, the symptoms may also decrease a lot. There have also been cases when asthma has disappeared entirely by the time the child enters school. However, please always keep the medicine handy and continue to take precautions, as an asthma attack may sometimes come on without warning. Be careful.