Sometimes, children’s asthma masks itself in symptoms that can be similar to other common respiratory problems. Dr. Shipra Singh of Renown Medical Group – Pediatrics discusses some diagnoses and treatments for asthma in children.
Adults can easily recognize when we are out of breath or struggling to breathe, but what if you noticed this regularly happening to your infant or child during their daily play? Would you think they might have asthma? It may be difficult to tell if your small child has asthma because the symptoms can be similar to other common respiratory problems (bronchitis, croup, pneumonia) or even allergies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, asthma in children is a leading chronic illness and cause of school absenteeism in the U.S. Asthma is a multi-factorial disease. Smoking during pregnancy or a family history of allergies or asthma has been linked to a greater chance of developing childhood asthma. Asthma is usually on a spectrum and not a single disease. It can range from mild to severe.
Because an infant’s or toddler’s airway is smaller than in older children and adults, even a slight blockage caused by mucus or a restricted airway due to swelling can make breathing hard for them. In children five and younger, one of the most common causes of asthma symptoms is a respiratory virus, which narrows the airways in the lungs. These include a cold, the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia and other illnesses.
How can I tell if my child has asthma?
Unfortunately small children are unable to describe their symptoms, making asthma difficult to diagnose. Your child may even be active, playing and smiling, although they are experiencing chest tightness or labored breathing. Observe your child and let the child’s doctor know if:
- Your child’s breathing behavior has changed (coughing, wheezing, rapid breathing)
- Your child’s breathing pattern changes (day vs. night, with rest or activity, inside vs. outside)
- You have a family history of asthma or allergies
- Your child’s breathing is triggered by any foods or allergies
With your help, your child’s doctor can make the best diagnosis to determine if your child has asthma. A pediatric pulmonologist (lung specialist) or pediatric allergist may also have to be consulted for special testing. Tests may include lung function testing, allergy tests, blood tests and X-rays for an accurate diagnosis.
What is the treatment for infants and toddlers?
Young children can use many of the same medications as older children and adults, although the way they take them and the dosage will differ. A nebulizer (or breathing machine) creating a medicated mist for your child to breathe through a mask may be used. An inhaler with a small spacer tube connected to a mask is also common to help your child breath medication into their lungs. Either of these options are effective.
Asthma in children is treated with both fast-acting and long-term medicines to open up airways quickly for easy breathing and also to lessen asthma symptoms over time. Communicate with your child’s medical providers to create a personalized asthma management plan for them.
How can I manage my child’s asthma?
- Recognize your child’s breathing habits and be aware of worsening symptoms.
- Consult with your child’s doctor on a daily asthma action plan to recognize worsening symptoms and track medications. (Here’s an example of an asthma action plan provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health). Be consistent with the plan and talk to your doctor before changing it.
- Have an emergency plan in case of a serious asthma attack. Know where the closest ER is and know who can take care of your other children. Also know what the medical treatment coverage is under your insurance plan.
We asked Dr. Singh about asthma in children: “Discussing asthma with your child may be a difficult subject. Some kids find the subject frightening or confusing. Others, especially the older kids, may be resentful of the treatment and may not be interested in doing the treatment. Talk to your doctor about advice to build an open and trusting relationship regarding your child’s asthma care.”
What can I do to reduce my child’s asthma?
- Know your child’s asthma triggers (dust, pets, pollen, etc.)
- Follow your asthma action plan
- Keep your child away from smoke
Can my child outgrow their asthma?
Asthma symptoms change day to day and year to year. An older child can better recognize and manage their symptoms, so asthma episodes may lessen. However asthma is a life-long condition of the airways, so it is important to always have an asthma action plan, even with occasional asthma events.