Su Laurent discusses the topic of asthma in babies and young children, and how parents should handle this condition.
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Wendy Turner: Most of us know the discomfort and panic that can occur when we are short of breath. Well, asthma is an extreme form of this, particularly distressing for babies and the young children. Dr. Su Laurent is here. Now as you know she is our Medical Advisor and a Consultant Paediatrician at Barnet & Chase Farm Hospitals, welcome Su. Su Laurent: Hi Wendy. Wendy Turner: Right. What exactly is asthma? Su Laurent: Well, asthma is -- this correct medical definition of asthma is reversible airways narrowing, which means that for a variety of reasons, the main airway supplying the lung becomes narrow and then these airways can be made it to widen up again using specific treatment or naturally by themselves in the course of time. Wendy Turner: Is asthma something that you can be born with? As a baby, you sort of be born with asthma or just something have to trigger it? Su Laurent: That’s a very good question. Usually, if you look at your family tree, you will find that there were lots of other asthma or hay fever or exma sufferers in the family. And therefore you are born with a genetic tendency to having asthma. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get asthma however. And we never diagnose asthma in a baby at birth. This diagnosis, we tend to make when they are quite a bit old, when they are about 18 months. The reason that you should delay a diagnosis is because many, many babies will become wheezy and have a lot of coughing in the first year of their life. And as they get older to about 18 months or so this tendency to wheeze with cold often disappears but as those babies and young children who get left with that tendency that we diagnose of having asthma. Wendy Turner: So as a parent, how would you know that your baby is having an asthma attack? Su Laurent: Well, the social symptoms as a child or a baby might have are severe cough, everytime they get the cold and a wheeze. And by wheeze, it’s that noise that a baby makes when they breath out. So in other words, there sometimes babies make noises when they breath in and sometimes they make noise when they breath out like that. It’s the noise breathing out specifically. And on top of that, it’s the difficulty of breathing that’s specific to asthma. So you will see a child coughing, making a wheezy noise and actually working quite hard at breathing. And looking at their ribs, you’ll see that the skin between ribs become sucked in and sometimes if you look at their neck, you’ll see that the skin just above the neck becomes soften as well. And the nose might even flaw a little bit. All these are signs that there is narrowing of the main airways. Wendy Turner: And presumably as a parent to get in if that happens straight to the doctor or hospital? Su Laurent: Well, certainly. It depends on how distressed the child is but if this happens, it’s certainly worth going into seeing your GP. Many children on what we call happy wheezes and babies particularly so they just wheeze a way that they carry on feeding, they are a lot pink and nice and happy and they cough a bit, and there is nothing specific you need to do those for children other than just getting them checked out by your GP. But there are some children who clearly become distressed when they have asthma and the short of breath and those children do need urgent medical attention and some advice about management. Wendy Turner: How life threatening is asthma generally? Su Laurent: That’s a very good question as well. And asthma as a whole is a potentially life threatening illness. In other words, every year, there are few children and adults who will die from asthma. However asthma is extremely common and the vast majority of people, it is not life threatening in. So that’s most important message really for parents, that the most children with asthma, this is not going to be life threatening and it’s very manageable but they do need to see medical attention. Wendy Turner: Can you actually grow out of the condition? Su