Normally, symptoms of an asthma attack include coughing (primarily at night), shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest pressure. Asthmatic symptoms are generally caused by inflammation in the bronchial tubes, which are lined with sticky secretions. This in turn produces irritation, which leads to coughing and other symptoms as the body’s natural attempt to “clear” the bronchial tubes. Asthma attacks, on the other hand, occur when these symptoms rapidly become worse. Individuals may gasp for air and breathe rapidly while muscles in the chest and neck tighten (a phenomenon called retractions).
First, it is necessary to identify your child’s most common triggers for an asthma attack. Whether it be anxiety, intense exercise, or the presence of certain irritants in the air (smoke, for example), identifying triggers will help your child avoid severe asthma attacks in the future. The knowledge itself is extremely important, as it helps your child make positive decisions about his or her environment before irritants become a problem. Talk to your child honestly and openly about the problem, as many young children will not understand why they keep coughing and wheezing when other children do not. Make sure they understand that asthma is a serious problem but also a treatable one. Teach your child to take their symptoms seriously despite the social inconvenience this may cause. You may wish to engage your child’s teachers directly regarding environmental triggers and treatment procedures. The more the child’s teachers know, the faster your child can respond to symptoms effectively without causing problems in the classroom.
Your doctor will likely know more about your child’s asthma attacks and may have additional recommendations for treatment. Both you and your child (if your child is old enough) should know how to operate the peak flow meter, which is used to monitor a person’s breathing. Should the peak flow numbers decline, you know that a worsening of asthma symptoms will follow shortly. Peak flow meters allow children and parents to make arrangements regarding their surroundings to minimize the chances of a severe asthma attack.
Alternatively, several medications may also be used in conjunction with peak flow meters to quickly alleviate asthmatic symptoms, especially during an emergency. Talk with your doctor to determine the best medications that correspond with the severity of your child’s asthma attacks. Train your child to recognize the symptoms of an oncoming attack, especially the symptoms that could potentially trigger a severe episode and warrant medication. Your doctor, as well as local pharmacists, will be able to help in training both you and your child to administer the medications properly. Be sure to clear up any questions you may have while you are still with your doctor, as an asthma attack may depend on a quick and effective response.