What is Nocturnal Asthma — A Mother's Story

It is every parent's nightmare — you wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of your child struggling to breathe and terrified. Unfortunately, this emergency became a reality for Laureen Martinez, and her son Luca, a few weeks ago. 

Being awoken to the sound of her son wheezing, and aware that he has suffered several asthma attacks in the past, Laureen immediately recognized the symptoms. Dialing 911 and waiting for the emergency services to arrive felt like a lifetime, and was a frightening experience for the Martinez family.

As an infant, Luca's mom noticed that whenever he had a cold or the sniffles, he would also experience what Laureen describes as "a crackling noise in his chest." Naturally, this worried Luca's parents, and they decided to investigate further by taking Luca to see a pediatric pulmonologist — who diagnosed Luca with wheezing.

What is Nocturnal Asthma?

'Nocturnal asthma' is another term used to describe asthma symptoms that occur at night, such as shortness of breath, chest tightening, and wheezing. Because it disrupts sleep, nocturnal asthma can hurt a person's quality of life, leaving them tired and irritable during the day.

Is Nocturnal Asthma Common?

Nocturnal asthma is common in people who have been diagnosed with wheezing and can occur along with other types of asthma, such as allergic and exercise-induced.

Around 41% of children who experience wheezing also have nocturnal asthma symptoms. As well as the expected wheezing, coughing, and chest-tightness experienced with nocturnal asthma, children can also find that they often wake during the night and experience sleep apnea. 

Poor sleep quality is not only a problem for the kids that are affected by nocturnal asthma —  it also worsens the quality of life for their parents and caregivers. 

What Causes Nocturnal Asthma?

Medical professionals aren't exactly sure why wheezing is exacerbated during the night; however, they believe that it may be because many people sleep in a reclining position. Sleeping on your back can cause a build-up of secretions, such as postnasal drip, as well as a decreased lung volume and increased airway resistance.

Interesting research is being conducted to find out how hormones affect our natural breathing patterns. Epinephrine is a hormone that helps to keep the muscles in the walls of bronchi relaxed — ensuring that the airways remain open. Our body's levels of epinephrine are lowest at around 4:00 a.m. and researchers believe that this decrease in epinephrine levels may increase the likelihood of wheezy patients experiencing nocturnal asthma symptoms.

How Do You Treat Nocturnal Asthma?

Just like wheezing, there is no cure for nocturnal asthma, so it is essential that you consult your doctor to discuss the best course of action for your care. The proactive use of daily asthma medications can be very effective at reducing inflammation and also preventing nocturnal symptoms. 

As allergens often exacerbate wheezing, it is prudent to remove all potential allergens in your sleep environment, such as dust and down comforters. If you would like some more tips here, for how to make your home wheezy-friendly!

The Future Is Bright

When Luca experienced his nighttime wheezing attack, he received a steroid at the hospital as part of his emergency treatment. His mom Laureen noticed an immediate improvement in his symptoms and was relieved to see her son breathing easier once again.

Although what Luca experienced was frightening for both him and his parents, he hasn't let it hold him back or dull his shine. An exuberant, high energy, five-year-old who loves to play tennis and soccer, Luca is especially excited to start kindergarten in August — and Laureen has no worries that with his fun personality and infectious smile he will thrive in this exciting new phase of life.

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Kirstie HinesComment