EXPERT ADVICE: Does my child have asthma?

Coughing, wheezing and breathlessness may point to the chronic condition. SmartParents learns more about asthma from paediatrician Dr Terence Tan.

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Shirley Ng, a mum of two is no stranger to asthma. She had it as a child, and her two kids, Georgina, 5, and Dominic, 7, have it as well.

“I remember having asthma attacks as a child, and it was quite terrible ― I couldn’t sleep at night because I was wheezing, and I was always bothered by physical activities because I got breathless easily,” she shares. “As such, I always had my inhaler with me.”

Though she has mostly outgrown the condition, she says she felt “heart pain” when she learnt that both her kids have the condition, too. They have had sensitive airways since they were toddlers, and Georgina, in particular, had one pretty serious attack when she was 2.

“It started out like a flu virus, but when she started breathing heavily and wheezing, that’s when I suspected it was asthma,” she says.

Some children are predisposed to recurrent wheezing and asthma because they inherited it from one or both parents.

The condition is quite easily managed these days, but Ng says she has moments of guilt as her kids probably inherited the condition from her.

Dr Terence Tan, a consultant paediatrician with Kinder Clinic at Mount Alvernia Hospital, fills us in childhood asthma facts.

What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?
Asthma is characterised by a feeling of tightness in the chest, breathlessness, an audible wheeze and, when severe, turning blue because of adequate ventilation. Death can occur if the attack is severe.

How common is asthma among children in Singapore?
Asthma and recurrent wheezing in Singapore children is quite a common problem. A local study has suggested the current prevalence of asthma in Singapore children is about 10 per cent.

What are the main causes of asthma? Are there groups with a higher risk of getting it?
Asthma is a complex condition which does not have one underlying cause. Some children are predisposed to recurrent wheezing and asthma because they inherited it from one or both parents. Children of individuals with asthma or other allergic conditions such as allergic rhinitis ― what is commonly known as a “sensitive nose” ― eczema, or food allergies, are at greater risk of developing asthma. If a child has these allergic conditions themselves, then they are also at risk of developing asthma.

Also, certain viruses have been thought to increase the risk of asthma if the babies are infected at a very young age and have recurrent wheezing. Other risk factors for asthma are a premature birth, smoking in the household and being allergic to environmental agents such as dust mites.

Is asthma related to any other medical conditions?
Besides other allergic conditions in a child ― namely allergic rhinitis, eczema, food allergies and allergic conjunctivitis, asthma may often be triggered, or made worse, by concurrent respiratory infections