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It’s upsetting to see your child coughing, wheezing or, even worse, struggling to breathe.
Pediatric asthma is the most common serious chronic disease in infants and children, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
In children with asthma, the lungs and airways become inflamed when exposed to certain triggers. Asthma symptoms can interfere with school, sports, sleep and daily life. Unmanaged asthma can lead to dangerous asthma attacks and damage to growing lungs.
Many children with asthma also have food allergies, skin allergies (e.g., eczema) or hay fever. Children with a family history of allergies and/or asthma and frequent respiratory infections are also at greater risk for pediatric asthma. Also, low birth weight and exposure to secondhand smoke before and/or after birth can increase risk.
While symptoms can begin at any age, most children with asthma have their first symptoms by age 5. Not all children wheeze; sometimes the only symptom is chronic cough. Other children have symptoms only when exercising.
What signs of pediatric asthma should parents be aware of? Look for one or several of the following symptoms:
In very young children, it may can be difficult to recognize when symptoms are caused by asthma. Often, young children may not be able to describe how they feel, and symptoms like chronic coughing may be attributed to a cold or bronchitis. This makes pediatric asthma difficult to diagnose.
If your child’s doctor suspects asthma, blood or skin tests can help determine if your child has allergies that often trigger asthma symptoms. Your child’s doctor may also perform a test that measures airflow in and out of the lungs (although this test can be difficult to do on children under 6 years old).
Treatment for pediatric asthma depends on the severity and frequency of symptoms. It may include both quick relief and long-term control in the form of medications, such as inhaled and oral corticosteroids.
There are also things parents can do to minimize asthma flare-ups:
Asthma is a chronic illness. Although there is no cure, with proper treatment, symptoms can usually be controlled so your child can breathe more easily, sleep better, and avoid missed school days and trips to the hospital.
Asthma doesn’t have to hold your child back. If he/she has asthma symptoms, let your child’s primary care doctor know. The doctor may refer you to an allergist who can work with you to help your child live a healthy and active life. Find an allergist near you.
Learn more about allergy services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
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