Simply, asthma in children is called as childhood asthma. When translated in a medical language, it is called Asthmatic Bronchitis. Again, it simply means a kind of bronchitis, which is asthmatic in nature.
It will be important to know what does asthma mean, in the first place. Asthma means panting (breathlessness), in Greek. In reality, asthma is more then panting. For example, if you exert yourself with intense exercise, you feel panting, but that is not asthma. Asthma means breathlessness due to the constriction of the respiratory tubes. The constriction of the large and small tubes of the lung may be because of the spasm caused by certain factors, discussed separately on this page.
Let us briefly understand the structure and the function of the lungs. The lungs are two cone shaped vital organs on either side of the chest, as shown in the figure. Air, which we breathe through the nose, enters into the lungs through the air-tube (called Trachea) which bifurcates into two tubes, each going to the respective lungs. Each of the bronchus (plural bronchi) branches into multiple, innumerous small tubes called bronchioles. The bronchioles lead to terminal sacs called alveoli. The air eventually passes through the bronchioles to the alveoli to exchange carbon dioxide (CO2) with Oxygen in return.
In the normal circumstances, there is a clear passage in the bronchi and the bronchioles facilitating effortless breathing process. In case of the asthmatic episode, due to certain factors the bronchi and the bronchioles go into 'spasm' leading to obstructed air passage (as shown in the figure II), not allowing the oxygen to go across. This is a typical phenomenon of the acute asthmatic episode.
So, asthmatic bronchitis is nothing but a disorder of the respiratory system whereby the lung tubes meet with episodic or chronic episodes of spasms, where the precipitating cause might differ from patient to patient and the frequency of attacks, the duration of attack as well as the intensity of the attack could vary from child to child.
The factors, which decide the intensity of the attack, are not only the external factors such as the strength of the allergens or irritants but it is the individual sensitivity (susceptibility) which decides the intensity of the breathlessness. Similarly, the same rules apply to frequency, the length of the attack. When said so, it is not difficult to derive that the Child Asthma is a disorder where one has to ascertain the 'internal' factors (such as the susceptibility of the patients) rather then just the external factors such as the food allergens. This understanding is quite vital with reference to the homeopathic approach to the treatment of asthma.
The causes of childhood asthma could be broadly categorized into:
They comprise of a wide range of allergies, which include allergens such as food allergens, pollutants (industrial pollution), chemicals (pest control), environmental factors (pollen, dust mites, cats, cockroaches, fungi, smoke, etc.), temperature intolerance (affected by the change in the atmospheric temperature). Physical exertion or exercise is known to induce asthmatic episode. Certain infections such as viral, bacterial or fungal infections often lead to asthmatic breathing.
The extrinsic factors alone cannot produce asthma, as not every one who is exposed to the pollen develops asthma. Again, not every one who is allergic to pollen develops asthma! This means, the very individual susceptibility is probably the most important aspect when we try to understand the causative factors responsible for childhood asthma. In other words, asthma is not merely a disease of the lungs but of the immune system. Asthmatic episode is an outcome of the fundamental tendency or the susceptibility, which is genetically determined. (This is also true with a wide range of diseases.) Hereditary influences also decide the predisposition to asthma as children with a family history of asthma or allergy or eczema are more prone to asthma as compared to their counterpart who do not have such a family history.
In the light of the homeopathic philosophy, every disease process is a result of genetically determined tendencies, which are called 'miasms'. Dr. Hahnemann was the first to identify the miasmatic influences affecting the disease process.
Asthma in children comprises of a set of variable symptoms. The onset of asthma may have typical cold and coryza, running of the nose, sneezing, nose block, sore throat, with or without fever. Then the symptoms might settle to the chest producing cough and congestion, leading to the typical 'chest spasm' which is described as a 'wheeze' in common language. In medical language, we often call it 'bronchospasm', which is nothing but the spasm of the bronchus (bronchi). The wheeze obstructs the lung tubes to give a sense of breathlessness, called as 'dyspnoea'. The breathless when intense or prolonged, gives panting, weakness and exhaustion due to inadequate oxygenation.
Coughing may be a constant accompanied symptom, which may be either a spasmodic, barking, hacking or violent. It is not difficult to anticipate an attack of breathlessness when the child starts having so called 'asthmatic cough'. The quality of cough may be either dry (non-productive) or wet (productive). There may be secretion of fluid in the lung tubes producing even more difficult respiration. It may come out as sputum (expectoration). Many times the process of expectoration itself may bring more strain and hence breathlessness. Sometimes, release of sputum or expectoration may give relief in breathlessness due to partial clearing of the air-passage.
There is a possibility that the attack of asthma may begin all of a sudden without any preceding cold or cough. The cases are not uncommon where the parents would find children waking up in the middle of night with severe attack of asthma.
Some of the factors, which influence the level of severity during an acute attack of asthma, may be noted with interest. Some children have a predisposition to have the attack getting worse during some specific time, say 2 or 3 am early morning or on rising up in the morning. Some children would feel comfortable only during certain body posture such as sitting erect or lying on particular side of the body. Some are better when being carried on the shoulder. Some are better sitting. Some feel better after having little warm water while some are better if the doors and windows are open.
If we carefully examine the symptoms of asthma, we shall find that although the basic symptoms remain the same, the exact symptoms vary from child to child. This suggests that every case of asthma calls for individual attention in order to cure it.