Asthma (Common Childhood Illnesses)

Asthma affects about one in five children in Singapore. Learn more about asthma in children and asthma triggers.

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What is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition in which the airways are inflamed and become more sensitive than usual. When sensitive airways are exposed to certain triggers, they overreact, become narrower, and breathing becomes difficult.


The Allergic March

Asthma is an atopic (i.e. allergic) condition. The term “atopic march” or “allergy march” was coined to describe the progression of allergy-related conditions in childhood, usually beginning with eczema and progressing to food allergy, allergic rhinitis (sensitive nose) and asthma.


This means that if your baby develops eczema, he would have a higher risk of getting other atopic conditions, such as food allergy and asthma, in the future. In Singapore, the incidences of atopic conditions among children are increasing. These conditions may coexist in a child.

Related: When Allergies Occur 

How Common is Asthma Among Children in Singapore?

Asthma affects about one in five children in Singapore. The good news is, if your child has asthma, he will most likely outgrow it. Up to half of the children with asthma are likely to be attack-free in their teens, while the remaining are likely to have milder and less frequent attacks. Only five percent of adults continue to have asthma.

What Causes an Asthma Attack?

The exact cause of sensitive airways and asthma attacks are unknown. But you can watch out for common triggers of asthma attacks. These include:
Viral respiratory infections: your child may develop coughing and wheezing after a day or two of cold or flu
Allergens: your child may be allergic to substances he is exposed to, such as dust in the household or dust mite, pests and insects, fur and droppings from household pets, or food that contain sulphites (e.g. preserved food)
Irritants or air pollution: including haze, paint fumes, smoke from open fires and cigarette smoke
Exercise: exercise is likely to trigger an attack if asthma is not well controlled
Medication: some medication such as aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen and Mefenamic acid, and beta-blockers (Propranolol, Atenolol) should be avoided. Please inform and check with your doctor if your child has asthma and is prescribed these medications
Changes in temperature: a sudden dip in temperature and humidity, such as entering environments with cold, dry air or drinking cold water, may trigger sensitive airways.
Emotional factors: anxiety, excitement and stress may worsen asthma

Observe your child to find out what triggers his asthma attack and try to minimise his exposure to those triggers.

Asthma Triggers in Children
Here are some common triggers and suggestions on how your child can avoid them:


Animal dander
(fur, skin of cats/dogs)

  • Find a new home for your pet if possible. If not, prevent your pet from entering your child’s bedroom.
  • Bathe your pet at least once a week.

Dust in beds and pillows
(house dust mites)

  • Use protective air-tight mattress covers and pillow cases.
  • Wash bed sheets and pillowcases weekly in hot water.

Pests/insects
(e.g. cockroaches)

  • Do not leave garbage uncovered.
  • Use poisonous insect bait but ensure this is not within the reach of children.
  • Use pesticide spray only when the person with asthma is out of the house.

Pollen

  • Close doors and windows and keep your child indoors when the pollen count is highest in the afternoon.
  • Using an air conditioner helps reduce the amount of pollen that finds its way indoors.

Tobacco smoke

  • Avoid tobacco smoke.
  • If anyone in your family smokes, it would be advisable for them to stop, or at the very least not smoke in the house.

Medication

  • Aspirin, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs, e.g. Ibuprofen, Mefenamic acid) and Beta-blockers (Propranplol, Atenonol) should be avoided.

Food

  • Avoid foods that contain sulphites (e.g. preserved foods).

Mental stress/emotional state

  • Teach your child some relaxation techniques.
  • Speak to someone about your child’s problems or join a support group.

During an Asthma Attack:

The airway lining becomes inflamed or swollen
The airway wall muscles contract and go into spasms
Thick mucus is produced and clogs up the airways

If left undiagnosed and untreated, asthma may cause permanent damage to the lungs and can be fatal.

Childhood asthma is the same as adult asthma, but with its own set of challenges. Children with asthma will need more parental supervision and help in learning to control their condition.

On the positive side, with the right treatment, you and your children can keep their symptoms under control and prevent damage to their growing lungs.

Related: Asthma 

What Are the Symptoms of an Asthma Attack?

If your child suffers from an asthma attack, he may be:
Breathless
Wheezing or breathing noisily
Coughing persistently
Feeling tightness around his chest

What Can I Do If My Child Has an Asthma Attack?

1. Stay calm.
2. If your child has been given an inhaler by his doctor, let your child use the inhaler to open up his narrowed airways for immediate relief. Repeat every 20 minutes, or as advised by his doctor.
3. Keep your child comfortable, such as by loosening clothing around his neck, getting him to sit upright and letting fresh air into the room.
4. In a severe asthma attack, your child may be unable to speak and may struggle to breathe. It can become life-threatening if not treated properly. Bring your child to the doctor immediately or call for an ambulance.

How Is Asthma Treated?

For a child diagnosed with asthma, their condition will require continuous management and treatment. This may be long-term depending on the severity and frequency of their asthma attacks. Successful treatment of asthma depends on the partnership between you, your child and your doctor.

Here are some practical steps to help you and your child control their asthma:
Minimise your child’s exposure to triggers
Take all medication as prescribed by your child’s doctor (short-acting bronchodilator for quick relief and inhaled corticosteroids for long-term control) and follow up with your child’s medical appointments regularly
Teach your child to recognise asthma symptoms such as chest tightness or wheezing and how to manage them
Let your child’s caregivers or school teachers know of his condition and let them know how to manage an asthma attack
Continue to let your child exercise and participate in sports such as swimming, badminton or soccer when his asthma is properly controlled
Understand what asthma is all about
Have clear goals in achieving long-term control
Know your child’s level of control of their asthma
Know their medications and show them how to use them correctly
Teach them to use the correct inhaler technique
Show your child how to recognise and avoid trigger factors
Know what to do during an asthma attack

Learn more about the other common conditions that children face:
Fever 

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Asthma (Common Childhood Illnesses)

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