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Asthma ABCs

It's a scary health problem among children and it's growing fast. It makes breathing difficult for nearly five million children in the U.S., and, in the worst case can leave a child gasping for air. What can you do about it? Learn how to recognize the symptoms and control it, partly by taking precautions in the home.

Asthma is a lung disease that causes the breathing tubes to constrict and congest with mucus. Between 1982 and 1994, the number of children with asthma increased 72 percent. Experts don't really know why the rate of asthma continues to climb. But the news is not all bad, writes Theresa Kump in Child Magazine. New prevention and treatment methods are shining rays of hope on the problem.

1 - Boys are twice as likely as girls to have asthma.

2 - One-third of asthmatics exhibit symptoms by age 2; 80 percent show signs by age 5.

3 - Asthma is hard to recognize among infants and young children who don't have verbal skills to tell us about their trouble with breathing. Simple tests can reveal asthma if your pediatrician suspects the presence of it.

4 - Symptoms are shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. Or it can be as subtle as difficulty during running and strenuous play.

5 - Children may be born with a proclivity for asthma but they can develop the disease anytime. Studies also suggest that children born of asthmatic parents are likelier to develop asthma.

Quit Smoking. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to develop asthma and allergies, according to a 1992 study. Do yourself and your kids a favor and quit. If you can't quit right away, don't smoke in the home or in the car.

"Allergy-Proof" the Bed. Buy allergy-proof covers for your child's boxspring, mattress and pillow, and wash bedding weekly in hot water.

Keep Pets Away. Don't let pets into the bedroom or play area.

Buy Washable Toys. Use synthetic stuffed animals that can be washed periodically to get rid of the dust.

New treatments are being developed for asthma that show considerable promise, including the new antileukotriene drugs for children aged 12 and over. A recent study also found that massaging a child for 20 minutes at bedtime can reduce the incidence of asthma attacks. But the best strategy for fighting asthma is to find the right doctor.