Paediatrics: Asthma

2021-03-04 12:00 AM

Asthma is a disease of chronic airway inflammation, bronchial hyper-reactivity, and reversible airway obstruction.


Asthma is a disease of chronic airway inflammation, bronchial hyper-reactivity, and reversible airway obstruction. It affects 10% of the population and can develop at any age, but typically half of the paediatric cases present before the age of 10yrs. There is often a family history of asthma or atopic disease.



  • Cough after exercise or sometimes in the early morning, disturbing sleep.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Limitation in exercise performance.


In the child with chronic problems consistent findings include:

  • Barrel-shaped chest.
  • Hyperinflation.
  • Wheeze and prolonged expiration.

Chest X-ray

Not needed if there has been recent imaging. It may show:

  • Hyperinflation.
  • Flattened hemi-diaphragms.
  • Peribronchial cuffing.
  • Atelectasis.


  • Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) <80% predicted for height.
  • FEV1/FVC <80% predicted.
  • Concave scooped shape in the flow-volume curve.
  • Bronchodilator response to β-agonist therapy (i.e. 15% increase in FEV1or PEFR).


The main medications used for maintenance are bronchodilators, which give short-term relief of symptoms, and prophylactic therapy, which reduces chronic inflammation and bronchial hyperreactivity. In the out-patient clinic our aim is to titrate these treatments so that the child can function normally, yet still avoid any detrimental effect on growth and development.


  • Short-acting β2-agonists: salbutamol, terbutaline.
  • Long-acting β2-agonists: salmeterol, formoterol.

Short-acting anticholinergic: ipratropium bromide.

Chronic treatment of inflammation and hyperreactivity

  • Inhaled steroids: budesonide, beclometasone, fluticasone.
  • Oral steroids: prednisolone.
  • Sodium cromoglicate: rarely used.
  • Methylxanthines: theophylline.
  • Leukotriene inhibitors: montelukast and zafirlukast may reduce the amount of steroid therapy that is needed to control symptoms.
  • Combination inhalers containing inhaled steroids and long-acting B2-agonists.

Side-effects of chronic treatment


When long-term oral steroids or high-dose inhaled steroids are used, special attention will need to be given to unwanted effects including:

  • Impaired growth: can affect growth in height, but also ask about the frequency of haircuts, or changing shoe size, as these are early indicators of poor growth.
  • Adrenal suppression.
  • Oral candidiasis.
  • Altered bone metabolism.


Now rarely used in children, but you should be aware that there are a number of problems related to toxic blood levels, including:

  • Vomiting
  • Sleep disturbance or increased sleeping.
  • Headaches.
  • Poor concentration and deterioration of performance at school.