How Can I Tell if my Child has Asthma?

Q: How can I tell if my child has asthma and when do I take her to the doctor?

A: Asthma causes swelling and inflammation in the airways that lead to the lungs. When asthma flares up, the airways tighten and become narrower, keeping air from passing through easily and making it hard for your child to breathe.

It is important to note when asthma happens. Some children only have asthma attacks during allergy season. Others are affected by cold air or when they exercise. Others may have many bad attacks that have them in the doctor’s office often.

The cause of asthma is not known exactly but it tends to run in families. Asthma is also much more common in people with allergies, though not everyone with allergies gets asthma. And not everyone with asthma has allergies. Pollution may cause asthma or make it worse.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheeze, making a loud or soft whistling noise that occurs when the airways narrow.
  • Cough a lot.
  • Feel tightness in the chest.
  • Feel short of breath.
  • Have trouble sleeping because of coughing and wheezing.
  • Quickly get tired during exercise.
  • Many children with asthma have symptoms that are worse at night.

Even if your child has few asthma attacks, you still need to treat the asthma. If the swelling and irritation in your child’s airways isn't controlled, asthma could lower your child's quality of life, prevent your child from exercising, and increase your child's risk of going to the hospital.

Even though asthma is a lifelong disease, treatment can control it and keep your child healthy.

Your child might need routine check-ups so the doctor can monitor the asthma and determine treatment. A doctor could order tests such as a Spirometry, which measures how quickly the child can move air in and out of the lungs and how much air is moved; a peak expiratory flow, which shows how fast your child can breathe out when trying their hardest; a chest X-ray to see if another disease is causing the symptoms; and allergy tests, if your doctor thinks your child’s symptoms may be caused by allergies.

Asthma can be controlled over the long term with the use of a medicine, usually an inhaled corticosteroid, everyday which helps reduce the swelling of the airways and prevents attacks.

It can also be treated when attacks occur with a quick-relief medicine. It helps to identify and avoid triggers like:

  • Irritants in the air, such as cigarette smoke or other air pollution.
  • Things your child is allergic to, such as pet dander, dust mites, cockroaches, or pollen. Taking certain types of allergy medicines may help your child.
  • Exercise. Ask your doctor about using an inhaler before exercise if this is a trigger for your child’s asthma.
  • Dry, cold air; an infection; or some medicines, such as aspirin.

By Shannon Huettl, PA-C, ThedaCare Physicians - New London.