Recognizing the Signs of Asthma



Would you know if your child has asthma?

Asthma affects as many as 10 to 12 percent of children in the United States and is the leading cause of chronic illness in children.

For unknown reasons, the incidence of asthma in children is steadily increasing.

While asthma symptoms can begin at any age, most children experience symptoms by age 5.

What is asthma?

Asthma is characterized by inflammation of the bronchial tubes with increased production of sticky secretions inside the tubes, making it hard to breathe.

It is important to note that not all children with asthma wheeze.

Chronic coughing may be the only obvious sign, but a child's asthma may go unrecognized if the cough is attributed to recurrent bronchitis.

Does your child have any of these symptoms?

chla-asthma-rn-remedies.jpgWheezing and/or Chest Tightness
Sometimes this takes place only with exercise or with a cold.

A young child who has frequent wheezing with colds or respiratory infections is more likely to have asthma if:

  • A parent has asthma.
  • The child shows signs of allergies, including the allergic skin condition eczema.
  • The child wheezes even when he or she doesn't have a cold or other infection.

Frequent Cough
May be more common at night, and the child may or may not cough up mucus. You may notice your child is tired during the day, possibly due to lack of sleep.

Shortness of Breath
This is a feeling of not getting enough air into the lungs. It may occur only once in a while, or often. Shortness of breath can feel like tiredness or a decreased ability to do normal activities. Young children who are not yet verbal may experience feeding problems with shortness of breath while older children may describe tiredness, fatigue or just not being able to keep up with other kids their age.

Diagnosing Asthma

There is no specific test for asthma. Lung function tests—often used to confirm a diagnosis of asthma are very hard to do on children less than 6 years old.  Pulmonary function tests (PFT’s) measure how well your child can move air in and out of his or her lungs.  It helps tell your health care provider if your child has lung disease, how severe it is and the provider will recommend what medications may help.

Click here to download the American Thoracic Society's Patient Information Series on Pulmonary Function Testing in Children

To help your pediatrician make a correct diagnosis, be prepared with information. This includes information about family history of asthma or allergies, your child's overall behavior, breathing patterns and his or her responses to foods or possible allergy triggers.

The doctor may use a four to six week trial of asthma medicines to see if they make a difference in your child's symptoms.

Asthma Triggers

Spring is in the air, and so are your child’s asthma triggers.  Did you know that weather changes can trigger asthma?

Other common triggers include:

  • Pollen, dust mites, cockroaches and pet dander; cat dander is worse than dog.
  • Inhaling cigarette smoke or having contact with someone who has smoked cigarettes (cigarette smoke permeates clothing).
  • Chemicals including household cleaners, citronella candles and bug sprays.  Colognes and scented lotions are triggers.  Pool chlorine can be a problem;  indoor pools should be avoided as the chlorine is enclosed in the building.  Private pools are much better than public, because public pools tend to have much more chlorine in them.  Beach swimming is better than pool swimming. (Find answers to the Top 10+ questions about children and chemicals.)
  • Stress: Even family stress can contribute to your child's asthma!
  • Cold and windy weather.
  • Exercise: If your child is prescribed daily medications, make sure they’re taken prior to exercise, especially if your child is physically active.  Also, your child should have  their inhaler on hand.  Exercise-induced asthma may be caused by rapid movement of air into the lungs before it is warmed and humidified. This often occurs because of mouth breathing during exercise.

To Help Prevent Symptoms

Armed with the knowledge of how your child's asthma can be triggered, you can take preventive measures.

Avoid Infection

Effective ways to avoid infection include good hand washing, brushing teeth twice a day and seeing the dentist every six months.  Avoid contact with family and friends when they sick, stay out of crowds during cold and flu season and make sure to get your flu vaccine.

Work with Your Pediatrician

Get regular health care.  Make sure your child takes medications as prescribed.

Get an Asthma Action Plan

Your child's health care provider can give you this—use it! Make sure your child’s school has a copy of it as well.  See an example here, provided by the American Lung Association.

Avoid Exposure to Pollutants

Radon, second-hand smoke, household chemicals and air pollution can worsen asthma symptoms.  According to an American Lung Association State of the Air 2011 report, the area comprised of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Riverside, is fourth in the nation with the worst short-term air pollution. It's the second worst for year-round air pollution and number one for worst ozone pollution.

That's why it's so important for local parents to check news reports and keep asthmatic children inside when pollution levels are particularly high. A simple way to prevent your child's exposure to smoke is also not to do it around your children.

Pests Be Gone!

Rid your home of pests like cockroaches and dust mites. You may need to remove a pet if your child’s asthma is severe enough. Speak with your pediatrician or asthma care provider before making final decisions about whether to get a pet or give one up.

Don’t Smoke

Please remember, cigarette smoke affects your child even if you do not smoke in their presence.

Early Exposure

Studies are showing that exposure to animals before children are 6 months old builds their immune response due to the endotoxins.   So take your baby to the zoo or on a trip to a farm.  He or she won’t remember the trip, but his immune system will.

Don't forget to have fun!

By taking the proper precautions, you can help your youngster breathe easy this spring and summer.

Exercise is very healthy for your child (and you)! But be aware that running around on that fresh-cut lawn and breathing smoke from an outdoor barbeque or citronella candle can be triggers if your child’s asthma is sensitive to those things.

Having an asthma action plan handy is a good way to make sure that a little preparation goes a long way.