Diagnosing asthma in children can be difficult, but regular physical exams that include checks of lung function and allergy tests can help make an asthma diagnosis. Asthma is a growing health problem for children in the United States, with more children missing school, requiring hospitalization, and even dying due to asthma than ever before. The main goal of treatment for children with this condition is to prevent asthma attacks by identifying the triggers that cause asthma symptoms and avoiding them.
Childhood asthma is a major public health problem of increasing concern in the United States. From 1980 to 1996, asthma prevalence among children increased by an average of 4.3 percent per year, from 3.6 percent to 6.2 percent. Low-income populations, minorities, and children living in inner cities experience disproportionately higher morbidity and mortality due to asthma. The effects of asthma on children and adolescents include the following:
- Asthma accounts for 14 million days of school missed annually
- Asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among those younger than 15 years of age
- The number of children dying from asthma increased almost threefold, from 93 in 1979 to 266 in 1996
- The estimated cost of treating asthma in those younger than 18 years of age is $3.2 billion per year.
A trigger includes anything that causes irritation to the airways, such as cold air, exercise, dust mites, smoke, pollen, or even catching a cold. In a person with asthma, these triggers will cause the airway to respond in two ways: swelling and mucus production. When the airway swells up, it becomes very narrow and breathing is difficult. The extra mucus clogs the airways, causing further difficulty with breathing.