Are you concerned about a persistent night-time cough, or shortness of breath that appears when your child runs? Asthma is a leading chronic illness in children, affecting as many as 10%-12% of kids in the United States. And although asthma can begin at any age, most children experience their first symptoms before the age of five. Here we've rounded up the basics on the condition, including asthma risk factors, triggers, signs, and diagnosis.
Risk Factors and Triggers
Several risk factors have been identified for childhood asthma, including a family history of asthma or allergies, frequent respiratory infections, exposure to tobacco smoke before or after birth, and nasal allergies or eczema.
According to the U.S. Library of National Medicine, asthma triggers may include allergens (such as mold, pollen, or animals), air-borne irritants like cigarette smoke or air pollution, cold air or changes in weather, exercise, and infections like the common cold or the flu.
Signs of Asthma
While not all children exhibit the same symptoms of asthma, according to WebMD the following symptoms are all common signs of asthma.
- Frequent coughing spells, which may occur during play, at night, or while laughing or crying
- A chronic cough (which may be the only symptom)
- Less energy during play
- Rapid breathing (intermittently)
- Complaint of chest tightness or chest "hurting"
- Whistling sound when breathing in or out — called wheezing
- See-saw motions in the chest from labored breathing. These motions are called retractions.
- Shortness of breath, loss of breath
- Tightened neck and chest muscles
- Feelings of weakness or tiredness
Diagnosing Asthma in Children
A child is often diagnosed with asthma based on the symptoms parents notice and describe to the child's doctor, her medical history, and a physical exam. However, as Circle of Moms member Joanne C. notes of her daughter, many physicians are hesitant to offer a diagnosis for young children since their respiratory systems are still developing: "I was referred to a pediatrician who diagnosed her, but was told also [that] doctors did not like labelling a child as asthmatic before the age of two, so i had to have follow ups every few months."
Regardless of the whether an asthma diagnosis is given, the treatment will likely be similar. Jodi A. explains: "When my son was young, they wouldn't CALL it asthma, but called it bronchial asthma...and they treated him as if they would for asthma."
And as Dona P. relays, a young child may grow out of symptoms that seem like asthma: “My youngest son had symptoms when he was little, and the doctor told me that he may have exercise-induced asthma. However, he outgrew it and now has no signs of asthma.”
The information in this article is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
To connect with other moms who are dealing with an asthmatic child, visit the Circle of Moms community Kids with Asthma.