Know the signs of childhood asthma

December 05, 2019 | by Uzma Muneer, D.O.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

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:

  • Wheezing or whistling sound when breathing out
  • Chronic cough, cough that is present at night, during sleep, worse during colds, or is triggered by exercise or cold air
  • Rapid breathing, shortness of breath
  • Complaints of chest hurting or feeling tight
  • Reduced energy, feeling weak or tired
  • Frequent colds that settle in the chest, bronchitis
  • Feeding problems (e.g., infants grunting during feeding)
  • Sleep problems due to coughing or difficulty breathing

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:

  1. Know your child’s asthma triggers. Common pediatric asthma triggers include:
    • Pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, cockroaches
    • Tobacco smoke or other smoke
    • Perfumes, cleaning agents, bug sprays
    • Exercise
    • Cold air, weather changes
    • Stress
    • Acid reflux
    • Respiratory infections
  2. Make an asthma action plan. Teach your child what to do if they have an asthma flare-up. Your child’s doctor can help provide an asthma action plan, which should include medicines to take based on symptoms and emergency contact numbers. Make sure your child’s school, camp, coach and other caregivers each have a copy of the plan.
  3. Have an inhaler on hand. If your child is physically active, make sure they take their prescribed medication prior to exercise and have their inhaler on hand.
  4. Address a pet allergy. Studies suggest that exposure to animals before children are 6 months old builds their immune response and may lower the risk for developing asthma later. However, if a pet is causing severe asthma, it’s time to think about other solutions to limit exposure.
  5. Avoid infection. Teach your child about how to avoid getting sick, including good hand washing practices. Reduce your child’s chances of getting the flu with the flu shot. Make sure your child gets proper rest, maintains a healthy weight and manages stress.
  6. Don’t smoke around your child. Cigarette smoke affects your child even if you do not smoke in their presence.
  7. Create an asthma-friendly environment. Use special furnace filters to remove airborne allergens in your house. Reduce exposure to household chemicals and other pollutants. Wash bedding and clothing in hot water. Use anti-allergen mattress and pillow covers. Vacuum and dust frequently. If you can, remove carpets in your child’s bedroom, which can harbor allergens.

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.

Related blogs:

Should you get your child allergy tested?

Can food allergies in kids be prevented?

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

Is it a cold or allergies?

Get seasonal allergies under control

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