Most of the time your child seems perfectly healthy. He runs and plays, and he breathes just fine. However, he has occasional coughing fits, or sometimes he struggles to catch his breath after a particularly intense game of tag. Perhaps your daughter always seems to be sick, complaining about difficulty breathing and a cough that keeps her awake at night. Maybe they have allergies, or maybe they’re prone to colds or infections, but they could have asthma.
It’s sometimes difficult to tell whether or not your child has asthma. He or she may go long periods without any of the typical asthma symptoms, and sometimes asthma can be mistaken for allergies, colds, or infections.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disease. The lungs respond to triggers such as cold air, heavy breathing, dander, dust, pollen, allergens, etc. This causes airways to become narrow and inflamed, and may also cause increased mucus production. If asthma is left untreated it can result in permanent lung damage.
Symptoms may be mild or severe. Mild asthma symptoms may go away on their own, or with minimal treatment. Symptoms can, however, get progressively worse. Asthma attacks – also known as flareups or exacerbation – can be serious enough to require emergency care, and can be fatal.
Asthma typically starts developing during childhood. According to the CDC, 12% of American children are diagnosed with asthma. Approximately 35 million Americans have asthma. Asthma is a chronic condition, and there’s no cure for asthma. Asthma can be controlled and the symptoms can be managed, however.
Signs and symptoms of asthma
Asthma isn’t always that dramatic scene where a child collapses in the dirt, gasping for air as it becomes increasingly difficult for him to breathe. Your child might have an occasional cough, or struggle to catch his breath from time to time after physical exertion.
Symptoms may only occur briefly and sporadically. There are times when symptoms may be more common. Asthma can be triggered while playing, at night, while laughing or crying, or during cold weather. This can, of course, make it difficult to diagnose asthma.
Typical asthma symptoms include coughing, getting winded easily, intermittent rapid breathing, chest pain or discomfort, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and fatigue. If your child has one, or a combination of these symptoms, consider talking to his pediatrician.
Asthma risk factors
Knowing the risk factors for asthma can help you know whether or not to seek medical attention. For example, you should absolutely contact a doctor if your child has asthma symptoms and is at a higher risk for asthma.
Factors that increase the risk for asthma include premature birth – especially if the newborn needed breathing assistance, low weight at birth, allergies, a family history of asthma or allergies, prenatal or postnatal exposure to smoke or air pollution, and obesity.
Get a diagnosis
Your child’s pediatrician can help you determine whether or not he has asthma. If you suspect your child has asthma, schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. It’s smart to talk to a doctor for an accurate diagnosis, and a plan to manage asthma, even if symptoms seem mild. The pediatrician may refer you to a pulmonology specialist or asthma clinic for further testing.