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Causes, Symptoms & Treatment: Children and Asthma


After my youngest son recovered from RSV as an infant, he developed Neutropenia and asthma. While we are grateful that the doctors at CHOC Children’s have been able to get his neutropenic levels up high enough not to need white blood cell replacement (GCSF) anymore, his asthma is something that he will continue to struggle with for years to come.

The doctors at CHOC Children’s are the best in Orange County and have played a huge role in not only saving the life of my youngest son but also with helping to manage his neutropenia and asthma. My son is fortunate to now only experience asthmatic systems when sick with a cold, but many children suffer from symptoms year round. I had the honor and pleasure of speaking with Dr. Carlos A. Martinez, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician about what parents need to know about asthma and children.

One of the biggest questions I get asked from other parents who know that my child suffers from asthma is what signs they need to look for to know if their child might have asthma. Dr. Martinez shared with me that some of the typical signs and symptoms are a recurring cough in the daytime when children are active or at nighttime. In older children, they can give you a description of chest tightness or shortness of breath (can’t get a good breath in and out) and in terms of more objective things they can listen for it if the child comes to the office. The typical signs they would look for are wheezing which is a higher pitch sound that they listen to with a stethoscope as the air is flowing through the lungs.

How can you tell if your child is experiencing an asthmatic emergency? Dr. Martinez mentioned to me that it depends on the age group. What they call a flare or exacerbation typically looks like a kid who is having a considerable increase in the effort of breathing (breathing hard, fast, labored) and showing that they can’t make a full sentence. They might also have a combination of other things like a persistent cough or maybe cold symptoms at the same time.

Can asthma be life-threatening? Dr. Martinez said, “Yes, very much so. Children can be very resilient regarding how their body deals with things, but at the same time when things get to a certain point, things can get pretty ugly quickly regarding oxygen getting to their brain because of a lack of breathing.”

What triggers asthma? Dr. Martinez shared that flares are triggered by different factors in our environments such as things like dust/dust mites, molds, cockroaches, second-hand cigarette smoke, and pet dander. “The most common trigger is a cold or viral infection of the upper airway, so regarding management from an environmental point of view, its paying attention to when things get triggered,” said Dr. Martinez.

How can parents manage asthma? “In some kids, management has to do with possibly taking daily medication depending on how severe their symptoms might be,” said Dr. Martinez. That is more on the communication with the doctors to find out whether or not they need a daily medication as a controller. The other type of medicine that they use is a rescue medicine that is something you use once a flare has been triggered.

Is asthma something that children are born with or something that they develop? It was a question that Dr. Martinez gets often. He said that it is a mix, and they don’t have a clear understanding at this time. They do know that there are some genetic factors in kids that are born to parents who have had a history of childhood asthma.

Can children with asthma play sports? “Totally,” said Dr. Martinez. He continued to say, “We really want to have kids with these conditions out there and doing everything that the other kids should be doing.” He also mentioned that it is important to have good management and communication between the parents and the school. It is important to have a clear asthmatic action plan which is something that they print out for the parents at CHOC Children’s which has a very clear description based on the symptoms the child has, and what to do as far as medicines they might take on a daily or as needed basis. Dr. Martinez recommends that all his patients share the action plan with coaches, teachers, school nurses and put a copy of the fridge at home.

What should parents tell their children? “The wrong message that you can tell your kids is that they shouldn’t do this or that because they have this ‘a word’ because then kids start to learn limit,” said Dr. Martinez. He recommends that parents tell their children that they can do anything they want just like other kids. However, they should also pass down an overall awareness that when things are flaring up and what that looks and feels like – there needs to be clear communication between the parent/child.

What resources does CHOC Children’s offer parents? CHOC Children’s has some great educational tools online for parents.There are also seminar and classes available.

Finally, Dr. Martinez shared the importance of children with asthma getting the influenza vaccine. “Kids with asthma are at higher risk, and having more complications if they get influenza, so the spreading of information for them to get vaccinated is really important,” said Dr. Martinez.

Learn more about CHOC Children’s online, Facebook, and Twitter.

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