Asthma For Parents of Young Children with Asthma

How to Recognize the Symptoms and Identify the Triggers of Pediatric Asthma

Father talking to sonDetermining whether a child has asthma can be difficult. Asthma is typically diagnosed with a medical exam and a test that measures the airflow in and out of the lungs. Children who are of preschool age or younger may not be able to complete the airflow test, which requires blowing very hard into a tube. And since infants and toddlers can’t describe how they feel, parents, other family members, and caregivers need to be alert for symptoms.

Most children with asthma have symptoms before they turn five. In very young children, it may be hard for parents, and even doctors, to recognize that the symptoms are due to asthma. The bronchial tubes in infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are already small and narrow, and head colds, chest colds, and other illnesses can inflame these airways, making them even smaller and more irritated.

The symptoms of pediatric asthma can range from a nagging cough that lingers for days or weeks to sudden and scary breathing emergencies. Common symptoms include coughing, especially at night; a wheezing or whistling sound, especially when breathing out; trouble breathing or fast breathing that causes the skin around the ribs or neck to pull in tightly; and frequent colds that settle in the chest.

If You Think Your Child May Have Asthma …

Tell your child’s pediatrician if anyone in your family has asthma or allergies, such as hay fever, hives, or eczema. Both allergies and asthma run in families; if they run in yours, it’s more likely that your child will have them. If you have a family history of asthma or allergies, you may be referred to an allergist.

The allergist may perform skin or blood tests to see whether your child has allergies that can trigger asthmatic symptoms. These tests can be done at any age. The allergist also may prescribe one or more asthma medicines. If your child gets better while taking the medicine, it can be a signal that your child’s symptoms are due to asthma.

Your child might have only one of these symptoms, or several of them. You may think it’s just a cold or bronchitis. However, if the symptoms recur, that’s a clue that your child might have asthma. In addition, symptoms may worsen when your child is around asthma triggers, such as irritants in the air (smoke or strong odors, for example) or allergens like pollen, pet dander, and dust mites.

Any asthma symptom, whether mild or severe, is always serious; even mild symptoms can quickly become life threatening. Poorly controlled and undiagnosed asthma in small children can result in trips to the emergency room, hospital stays, missed workdays for parents, and suffering that small children are unable to express. It’s very important that children with asthma receive proper treatment.

The treatment will depend on the severity and frequency of the symptoms. To deal with childhood asthma, the doctor may prescribe two types of medicines: 
Quick relief  Any child who has asthma needs a quick-relief medicine to treat the noisy part of the disease – the coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath that occur with symptoms or an asthma attack. This medicine (typically an inhaler) should be with the child at all times for use at the first sign of symptoms.
Long-term control  This type of medicine is needed by some children to treat the quiet part of asthma – the inflammation of the airways. It is taken daily to prevent asthma symptoms and attacks.

If you think that your child might have asthma, speak to your pediatrician or to an allergist. An allergist can help you create an asthma action plan so you know when your child’s asthma is under control, when you need to change medicines and when emergency help is needed. An asthma action plan should have goals for your child’s asthma treatment and health. With the right treatment, your child can sleep through the night, avoid missing time from day care or preschool, and breathe easily.

Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, WINTER November 2014-February 2015.