Asthma in Babies

A baby coughing

Asthma is one the most common breathing ailments, and it may affect babies and young children too. However, proper care and medical assistance can ensure a healthy lifestyle for your baby. We shall be discussing various causes and symptoms of asthma and different treatment options available for the same.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is the chronic inflammation of the airways due to heightened sensitivity to the inhaled allergens and irritants. In other words, asthma can be characterized as a medical condition in which the airways become swollen and hinder the airflow to the lungs. The body’s immune reaction resulting from various irritants and environmental pollutants (pollens, dust, tobacco smoke etc.) may cause asthma. Therefore, there is a strong link between asthma and allergies. It is often seen that people who suffer from asthma have hypersensitive airways and minor irritants or allergens may cause their respiratory tract to overreact.

Babies or infants have smaller airways in comparison to older children and adults. Small airways get easily blocked by viral infections, mucus, or tight airways, and may lead to breathing difficulties. Therefore, asthma in babies under 12 months of age can be an extremely difficult situation.

How Common Is it in Babies?

Asthma may affect 10 to 12 percent kids, and these figures are on the rise. Usually a child may have his first bout of asthma by around five years of age; however, it may not get diagnosed until later. Asthma has become one of the leading causes of chronic ailments in kids.

What Causes Asthma in Infants?

The exact cause of asthma is not known. However, it may happen due to either of the following:

Allergy-based Asthma

The cause of allergy-based asthma is the sensitive immune system. If a baby has allergy-based asthma, he might be sensitive to certain allergens. The triggers may vary from child to child. Some of the common triggers are pollens, dust mites, pet hair, or saliva.

Non-Allergic Asthma

Asthma may occur due to other reasons that may include the family history (genetic reasons) or respiratory infections.

What are the Symptoms of Infantile Asthma

New parents often wonder how will they come to know if their baby has asthma or not. The answer to this is to look for the symptoms. Following are some of the symptoms of infantile asthma:

Rapid Breathing Pattern

If your baby has asthma, you may find a change in your baby’s breathing pattern. The usual breathing pattern of a three-month-old baby is 30 to 60 breaths per minute. This breathing pattern changes from three months onwards and becomes 20 to 40 breaths per minute. However, a baby with asthma may show 50 percent increase in the breaths per minute.

Tightness in the Chest

A baby with asthma will have a stiff chest because of stretched thoracic muscles.

Strenuous Breathing

You may find your baby struggling to breathe properly, and the rapid belly movements and flared nostrils are the visible signs of the same.

An excessive Cough

You may notice your baby coughing uncontrollably. These coughing bouts may become more prominent during late evenings or at the night time.

A child coughing

Wheezing Sound

An asthmatic baby will make a wheezing sound while breathing. This wheezing sound occurs due to strained breathing.

Difficulty in Eating

A baby with asthma may find it difficult to eat properly. This is due to the difficulty in breathing.

Tiredness and Lethargy

If your baby has asthma, you may find your baby less active than usual.

Faint Crying Sounds

Asthmatic babies make faint crying sounds, or their cries are very feeble in comparison to normal babies.

Blue or Pale Skin and Nails

The lower levels of oxygen in the blood may make your baby’s lips or nail beds appear blue or pale in colour.

These are some signs of asthma in babies that will help you establish if your baby is suffering from this medical condition.

Knowing Asthma Emergencies

The asthma attack can be mild, moderate, or severe. A baby may feel normal and act fine under a mild asthma attack. However, in a moderate or severe asthma attack, your baby may exhibit the following signs:

  • Increased breathing rate (more than 40 breaths per minute while sleeping).
  • Chest gets bigger.
  • Change in skin colour (pale or blue around the lips and fingernails).
  • Feeding or suckling stops.
  • Wider nostrils.
  • Faint and soft crying.

If you register above signs and symptoms in your baby, take care of it right away.

Which Infants are Most at the Risk of Getting Asthma?

Your infant or baby is more likely to have asthma under following circumstances:

If it Runs in the Family

Most cases of asthma are genetic, and if either of the parents has asthma, there is a high possibility that the baby will have it too. Your baby also has chances of having asthma if any of the close blood relatives has asthma.

Allergies

If your baby is allergic to airborne substances (dust mites, pollens, plant fibres, fungal spores and moulds) then there is a high possibility that your baby will have asthma. More than 60 percent of asthma cases are of allergic asthma. When your baby inhales either of these allergens, his immune system acts vigorously. This in turns results in inflamed airways and accelerated mucus that triggers asthma.

Eczema

The correlation between eczema and asthma is being backed by scientific research too. This means that both these ailments are caused because of the same mutated gene. Thus, if your baby suffers from eczema, there are 20 percent chances that he will have asthma too.

High Eosinophil Count

Your baby’s eosinophil count (a type of white blood cell) may become higher if your baby is prone to allergies. More than four percent eosinophil count in your baby’s blood and saliva makes him susceptible to asthma.

Wheezing

If you notice a wheezing sound with every bout of cold, this means your baby has constricted airways. This condition may lead to asthma in babies.

Food Allergies

Asthma resulting from food allergies is not very common. However, there are chances that your baby may develop asthma because of certain food allergies.

Doctor examining a baby

How Is Asthma Diagnosed in Babies?

If your doctor suspects that your baby has asthma, he may adopt following measures to ascertain the same:

Enquire About the Symptoms

Your doctor may ask you about various asthmatic symptoms that your baby may be exhibiting.

Study the Family’s Medical History

You may be asked about your family’s medical history. He will enquire if there have been any cases of allergies, eczema, or asthma in the family earlier.

X-Ray of the Chest

Your doctor will suggest performing an x-ray of your baby’s chest to examine any blockage in the bronchioles, swelling in the tissues, or accumulation of mucus.

Blood Test

Your baby’s blood may be tested to check the eosinophil count. The increased count is indicative of asthma.

The diagnosis is made after checking the above-mentioned parameters. Once the diagnosis is complete, your doctor will advise you on the best treatment options for your baby.

Treatments for Infant Asthma

There is no cure for asthma. The medication only helps in managing the symptoms of this ailment. There are various ways in which medicine may be administered to your baby, such as:

  1. Nebulizer
  2. Dry-Powder Inhaler (DPI)
  3. Metered-Dose Inhaler (MDI)
  4. Injections

Mother giving breathing treatment to her baby

If you are looking for medicines, then you should know that asthma medicines generally fall into three categories which are as follows:

Long-Term Control Medicines

As the name suggests, the infants may be required to take this medicines for a long time to prevent the symptoms of asthma. The severity of your baby’s condition will help your doctor decide how long your baby may be requiring the medicine.

Quick-Relief Medicines

These medicines provide quick relief from breathlessness, wheezing, and tightness in the chest muscles. These medicines can be administered intravenously or through MDI. They provide instant relief from the symptoms of asthma and are not used to provide long-term benefit.

Allergy-Induced Asthma Medicines

If the culprit of the asthma attack is allergens, then your doctor will suggest a separate course of medicines. The allergy induced asthma medicines work in conjunction with quick-relief and long-term asthma medicines.

What Can Be Done to Reduce Asthma Symptoms?

As a parent you may wonder how to prevent asthma in babies or what measures can you adapt to reduce asthma symptoms in babies. Worry not, here are some possible solution to your problem:

  • Keep your baby away from probable triggers (tobacco smoke, vehicular effluents etc).
  • Keep your baby’s room clean and dust-free.
  • Give washable toys to your baby and wash them once a weak.
  • Keep your baby away from pets.
  • Use air purifiers and humidifiers when necessary.
  • Avoid food that may trigger allergies.

All the above-mentioned may help in reducing the symptoms of asthma. However, as soon as you establish any asthmatic symptoms in your baby, seek medical help immediately.

How to Manage Infantile Asthma?

Asthma can be troubling not only for the child but for the parents too. Below are some measures that you can employ to manage infantile asthma:

  • Understand and look out for the emergency asthma signs in your baby. Knowing your baby’s asthma pattern helps you tackle it better.
  • It is important that you make a care plan with your doctor to take apt measures during emergencies.
  • Stick to your baby’s care plan and talk regularly to your doctor about the same.
  • Help your toddler and pre-schooler to learn to explain to you if they are not feeling too well.

Is Asthma Curable?

Asthma is a chronic condition that may affect your baby for a long time. There is no available cure for asthma; however, in some children, the symptoms of asthma become less severe as they grow. It is seen that 50 percent of kids outgrow their asthma symptoms by the time reach adolescence.

It is very important for parents to understand that asthma may not hamper proper growth and development of the baby if you take proper care. Get proper medical help and guidance to manage this chronic ailment in your baby.

Also Read: Bronchiolitis in Babies – Causes, Signs And Treatment