By HAYLEY SIMS, Contributing Columnist
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases amongst both children and adults, and has been increasing in prevalence in all age, sex and racial groups since the early 1980s, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In the US, 1 in 10 school-aged children have asthma, and it is the third-leading cause of hospital stays in children.
Even with milder cases, asthma is the Number One reason for missed school days.
Most children will present symptoms by the age of 5, although it is often difficult to diagnose in infants.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America list the most common signs of asthma in a baby or toddler as: fast breathing,
Viruses are often the cause of asthma episodes in infants. However, these signs can be symptomatic of other conditions, and doctors will often be cautious when diagnosing asthma.
What is important is to learn what your child’s triggers are, and avoid exposing them to certain things.
In any case, there are a number of studies concerning childhood asthma which have started to shed light on the causes of asthma and what we can do to reduce our children’s chances of developing the condition.
Here we have gathered the top 7 causes and remedies, backed up with scientific evidence, for your information:
1. Get Your Vitamin D to Prevent Asthma!
There is strong evidence to suggest that there is a link between Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and development of asthma in children, according to recent research.
A paper by Dr. Augusto Litonjua of Harvard Medical School published in 2010, speculated that Vitamin D deficiency may explain the ‘asthma epidemic’.
The review paper explains that clinical trials involving both animal models and human fetal tissues have shown that Vitamin D plays a role in fetal lung growth and maturation.
Indeed, higher prenatal Vitamin D intakes have been found to have a protective role against wheezing in young children.
A study from this year led by Dr Hendaus from the Weill Cornell Medical College of Doha, Qatar, evaluated nutritional prevention and intervention in childhood allergic diseases such as asthma.
The team found that Vitamin D deficiency correlates strongly with asthma, allergic rhinitis and wheezing in children.
The British National Health Service (NHS) advises that pregnant woman and children under 5 are often prone to Vitamin D deficiency and should consider taking Vitamin D supplements, spending more time in the sun (safely, with sun screen if necessary).
Don't want to use supplements? Try integrating Vitamin D rich foods such as oily fish, eggs, breakfast cereals or powdered milks into their diets.
2. Stop Smoking to Cut your Kid’s Chances of Asthma
Along with a whole host of other dangers, smoking while pregnant can greatly increase the chance of childhood asthma.
While this may be common knowledge, a collaborative study from this year examined the effects on children of non-smoking mothers passively exposed to tobacco smoke.
Led by Dr. Vardavas of the University of Crete, Greece, the study considered nearly 30,000 mother-child pairs and looked at the relationship between development of asthma and wheezing and smoking exposure.
The paper found that children with maternal exposure to passive smoking during pregnancy and no other smoking exposure were more likely to develop a wheeze up to the age of 2 years.
The study also points out that this risk is further increased with children’s postnatal passive exposure, and the highest risk is of course for children with both passive exposure and mothers who smoked during pregnancy.
The overall message is clear --- to give your child the best chance at healthy lungs, avoid smoking during pregnancy, passive exposure during pregnancy and any passive exposure where possible!
3. Breastfeed Your Children to Give Them a Boost Against Asthma
The same study from the Weill Cornell Medical College of Qatar that stated that Vitamin D affects asthma, highlights breastfeeding as a key nutritional source of support for preventing asthma.
The reason that breast milk helps prevent asthma is owing to its healthy bacteria content and effect on the baby’s immune system.
Another Qatari study, from the Hamad Medical Corporation in 2007 and led by Dr. A Bener, assessed this relationship between breastfeeding and the development of asthma.
The team surveyed 1278 infants and pre-school children between the ages of 0-5 with mothers between the ages of 18-47, during a 1 month period between October 2006 and September 2007.
The women completed anonymous questionnaires which covered questions about allergic rhinitis, wheezing, eczema, as well as mode and duration of breastfeeding, tobacco smoke exposure, number of siblings family income, level of maternal education and parental history of allergies.
More than half of the infants were exclusively breastfed, with only 12.4% of the group completely artificially fed.
Across the group, there were significant differences in socio-economic status and levels of exposure to smoke. However, it was found that across the board, asthma and wheezing was less frequent in exclusively breastfed children.
In fact, the team concluded that exclusive breastfeeding can help prevent the development of allergic diseases, including asthma, in children.
4. Avoid Spending Too Much Time at the Pool!
Swimming pools are like nirvana to many children, especially during the long summer holidays.
However, studies have shown that excessive exposure to chlorinated water in swimming pools may cause asthma.
A 2015 study by Rosenman et al at Michigan State University reviewed cases involving swimming pool workers in California, Michigan and New Jersey.
A total of 44 confirmed cases of asthma were found between 1990 and 2012 across these states, with a majority of these being new cases, rather than the development of pre-existing asthma.
The team attributed the asthma cases to chloramines, formed by the interaction of chlorine-based disinfection products, acting as an irritant.
The study concluded that clinical assessment of patients with asthma should include consideration of the effect on respiratory symptoms from exposures to chlorinated swimming pools.
5. Be Aware of Your Home Environment for Easy Breathing
The home environment of children can affect their respiratory conditions.
Growing up in a moisture-damaged, damp home, or being exposed to indoor or outdoor fungi can have a detrimental effect on children’s airways.
A study from this year at Mersin University, Turkey, by Arikoglu et al, set out to investigate the relationship between fungal levels in homes and children with respiratory symptoms.
The study looked at a total of 61 children who were admitted to the pediatric allergy clinic over a 14 month period between 2007 and 2008. The children were examined and a comprehensive questionnaire was used to collect informatiomn on their medical histories and housing conditions.
Different fungal species were examined and factors such as living in a detached house and presence of cockroaches were considered.
The results showed that exposing children to a considerable level of fungi inside and outside the home is linked strongly with respiratory diseases.
The bottom line is this --- you can help prevent asthma in your child by limiting exposure to fungus.
6. Leave the City to Keep Asthma in Check
Urban air pollution make asthma worse.
Dr. Reidl of the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, published a paper in 2008 which stressed the link between air pollution and the increasing prevalence of asthma.
Furthermore, a Boston University study from the same year by O’Connor et al investigated the association between outdoor air pollution and asthma morbidity amongst inner-city children. 861 children with asthma from 7 different US cities were tested every 6 months for 2 years for lung function. Each test consisted of 2 week periods of twice-daily monitoring.
The team concluded that even short-term increases in air pollution was associated with asthma symptoms.
In this instance, the children had pre-existing asthma diagnoses. However, the findings of the study suggested that air pollution as a result of vehicle emissions etc, may be causing excess morbidity and adverse respiratory health.
7. Try the Buteyko Breathing Technique!
Unfortunately, for many children, the likelihood of developing asthma will be in their genes.
It is important to note if there is a family history of asthma or another related allergic condition such as eczema, a food allergy or hay fever.
The NHS advises that for children diagnosed with asthma, the condition may disappear or improve during teenage years, although it can in some cases return later in life.
For these children, there are some alternative remedies that you can try to manage the condition.
Asthma UK, the UK’s leading not-for-profit organisation for asthma sufferers, suggests trying the Buteyko Breathing Technique (BBT).
This method is a way of retraining asthma sufferers to breathe in a therapeutic way.
The method teaches children to breathe slowly and gently through the nose rather than the mouth, which can dry out the airways and make them more sensitive.
A 2003 study at Gisborne Hospital, New Zealand, led by Dr. McHugh, assessed the impact of the Buteyko Breathing Technique on medication use of asthma.
The team monitored a controlled group of 38 people between the ages of 18 and 70 for six months. They found that there was no change in efficacy of the regular course of medication and concluded that the Buteyko Breathing Technique is a safe and effective asthma management technique.
Because using the technique is cheaper than many medications, the team suggested that the Buteyko Breathing Techniquemay have economic benefits as well as health benefits for many asthma sufferers.