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 a 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 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.