Childhood asthma is a condition in which the airways and lungs easily become inflamed and constricted when exposed to certain airborne agents like pollen or when the child has a cold or other respiratory infection. At a minimum, asthma can interfere with a child’s participation in sports and other vigorous activities. And in extreme cases, asthma attacks are a leading cause of emergency room visits. Knowing the signs of childhood asthma can help you spot the condition in time and get treatment.
Signs of Childhood Asthma
Asthma has symptoms that are similar to the common cold. However, their duration and severity are an indication that the child is facing more than a minor respiratory illness. The signs of asthma include:
- A chronic cough or frequent coughing spells, especially if they are more common at night or while playing, exercising or laughing
- Lack of energy when playing
- Shortness of breath
- A whistling or wheezing sound when breathing, especially when exhaling
- Intermittent rapid breathing
- Chest congestion, tightness or pain
- Frequent colds that settle in the chest
It may be hard for younger children to verbalize their asthma symptoms. So, it is important for parents of toddlers to be aware of these symptoms. Children who are old enough to describe their symptoms may say that their chest “feels funny” or may describe being out of breath when they get emotional.
Asthma can be diagnosed with a medical exam, which includes a test that measures airflow into and out of the lungs.
Treating Childhood Asthma
Asthma attacks can be temporarily debilitating and may be very alarming to children, especially the first few episodes. Available treatments include fast-acting inhalers and daily oral medication.
You can also minimize the risk of asthma attacks by limiting exposure to allergens and irritants, eliminating exposure to tobacco smoke and maintaining a healthy weight. It is also helpful to encourage physical activity to the extent that it doesn’t trigger an attack, as regular exercise can condition the lungs to work more efficiently.
When to Seek Emergency Treatment
While some asthma attacks may be mild and subside with little or no treatment, in other cases they can constitute a medical emergency. Get immediate medical attention if your child:
- Has to stop in mid-sentence to catch their breath
- Is struggling so hard to breathe that their abdomen is sucked up under their rib cage when they inhale
- Noticeably widens their nostrils when they inhale
- Has a rapid heartbeat, sweating or chest pain
Asthma can be a frustrating, and in some cases a frightening, condition. But, with awareness and proper treatment, it can be managed effectively.