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Asthma in Children

Article submitted by Physiotherapy Department, Physiotherapy students and Malta Association of Physiotherapists.

Over the last few decades, asthma in children has become more pronounced, making it the most common chronic disease amongst children. It is also one of the major causes of hospitalization among those younger than 15 years of age. As more people are sensitized to allergens, allergic diseases may increase in Europe in the coming years. Wheezing, a common symptom of asthma and/or an allergy has been found to have increased by more than 50% over the past 7 years, in Malta alone, according to the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC).

What is asthma?
Asthma is chronic long-term disease which affects the airways, which carry air in and out of the lungs (known as the bronchi). If your child has asthma, these airways are more sensitive than normal, and therefore, when your child comes into contact with something that irritates their lungs, their airways:

  • narrow,
  • become inflamed,
  • tighten, and
  • increase the production of mucus or phlegm.

The irritant or trigger makes it difficult for the child to breathe as it causes the symptoms of asthma. Everyone’s asthma is different and people may have several triggers. The most common trigger of an asthma attack is having an upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or flu. Other common triggers include:

  • exercise, especially in cold weather
  • an allergy to and contact with house dust mites, animal fur, grass and tree pollen
  • exposure to air pollution, especially tobacco smoke

What are the symptoms of asthma in infants and toddlers?
In general asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Asthma symptoms vary widely with some children. Some cough all night but are symptom free during the day, while others seem to get frequent chest colds that will not seem to recover. Cough is often the only symptom in young children.

What can one do?
If your child has just been diagnosed with asthma;

  • Learn as much about the condition by asking questions and working closely with your child’s physicians and physiotherapist to monitor asthma symptoms and keep attacks under control.
  • Identify triggers and develop strategies to avoid them.
  • Understand your child’s medications and how to use them.
  • Ask your child’s doctor for a written asthma action plan.

What is the physiotherapist's role in the care of Asthma?
Physiotherapists are skilled at helping people manage their asthma. A physiotherapist can help parents and their children learn about how to take control of this condition through information, education and other specialist skills.

These skills include breathing exercises and retraining as well as management of symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and excess mucus. Since physical activity and exercise can be helpful in managing asthma, physiotherapists can advise you on how to become more active by prescribing suitable activities for your child’s circumstances.


Barnes, P. J. (1996). Pathophysiology of Asthma. Br J. Clinical Pharmacology , 3-10.

Montefort S, Lenicker H, Caruana S & Agius Muscat H (1998) Asthma, rhinitis and eczema in Maltese 13–15 year-old schoolchildren — prevalence, severity and associated factors [ISAAC]Volume 28, Issue 9, pages 1089–1099.

OECD iLibrary. (2008). Retrieved March 19, 2013, from Health at a Glance: Europe / 2012 / Self-reported asthma: http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/9789264183896-en/01/16/g1-16-01.html?contentType=&itemId=/content/chapter/9789264183896-19-en&containerItemId=/content/serial/23056088&accessItemIds=/content/book/9789264183896-en&mimeType=text/html

Rachel Garrod, T. L. (2007). Role of Physiotherapy in the Management of Chronic lung Diseases: An Overview of Systematic Reviews. London: Elsevier.


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