Pediatric lung disease does not refer to one single illness. Rather, the term is used to describe a number of illnesses — often called childhood interstitial lung disease — that can affect babies, children and teens. These diseases are typically considered rare and can cause chronic cough, rapid breathing, and shortness of breath. They can also decrease lung function, reduce blood oxygen levels and disrupt the breathing process by damaging the tissues within the lungs and airways. There are several diseases that can cause pediatric lung disease, each with its own set of risk factors and treatment methods.
Risk Factors and Causes of Pediatric Lung Disease
There is still not enough research data to identify a clear cause of pediatric lung disease. However, doctors and scientists are aware of the following likely reasons. While most causes of the disease cannot be prevented, as with genetic or inherited causes, it may be possible to limit exposure to some of the others.
Inherited conditions, including surfactant disorders, can cause pediatric lung disease. The lungs typically have a liquid coating along the inside of the organs that helps with breathing and protects them from bacterial and viral infections. Without this liquid, or if it is damaged in any way, breathing can become difficult.
Malformation of the lungs and other issues with their structure can damage lung function and cause illness. As with most of the likely causes of pediatric lung disease, little can be done to prevent these defects.
Aspiration refers to the inhalation of substances like food, liquid or vomit into the lungs. Inhaling anything other than air and certain gasses can injure the lungs and limit their function. Aspiration may occur in children with gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is caused when acid from the stomach backs up into the throat.
Immune System Disorders
The immune system is essential in protecting the body from bacteria, viruses and toxins. Children with immune system disorders are unable to effectively fight illnesses, which can cause serious strain on the lungs.
Exposure to Radiation and Environmental Factors
If your child is exposed to mold, irritating chemicals or radiation, such as through treatment for another cancer, they may develop pediatric lung disease. These substances can cause breathing problems and damage the lungs, so it’s important to limit exposure whenever possible.
Having a Transplant
Bone marrow and lung transplants are also likely causes of pediatric lung disease. If the body rejects the stem cells or organs received in these transplants, lung function may be seriously impacted.
There is no cure for pediatric lung disease, though several treatments can be used to ensure your child’s comfort. As a result, treatment usually focuses on pain management and supportive therapy.
Your child may benefit from oxygen therapy, which improves breathing and reduces the strain on their heart, or breathing devices to help them breathe easier. Techniques and devices to relieve lung congestion, such as chest physio-therapy or vests that move mucus so it can be coughed up, are also common. Medication typically consists of bronchodilators, which relax the muscles around the airways, and extra nutrition may be necessary to help your child grow or gain weight.
Arranging for Pediatric Palliative Care
Caring for a child with interstitial lung disease can be challenging, but there are resources available to help. Pediatric palliative care is designed to make your child as comfortable as possible while they receive medical treatment. A dedicated and educated team will provide pain management medication, assist with exercise and daily tasks and provide emotional and spiritual counseling to help children manage their feelings. Families will also receive counseling services and expert guidance from a compassionate medical team. Many families find that while their child is receiving palliative care in the home, they have time to rest and handle other responsibilities as well.
As your child’s disease progresses, hospice care may become necessary. While the goal is still to ensure your child’s comfort, this type of care is provided within the last nine months of life. You may begin considering hospice care when your child requires repeated trips to the emergency room for respiratory failure or lung infections, has been repeatedly hospitalized and no longer wishes to be hospitalized, or no longer wishes to be intubated.
KidsCare of the Rockies provides both palliative and hospice care for children and they can be a valuable resource during this stressful time. Speak to the organization for more information about how these services can benefit your family. KidsCare’s expert teams of medical professionals will work with you to develop a customized care plan that not only meets your family’s needs but changes as your child’s illness progresses to ensure the highest level of care.