You’d know if your child had asthma, wouldn’t you? After all, it’s hard to miss a child gasping for breath. It must be a pretty dramatic thing, right? Wrong. Because of the symptoms childhood asthma is often mistaken for other things like colds or allergies – or goes completely unnoticed when a parent or doctor believes they are dealing with a single episode of an allergic reaction, spring allergies or a chest cold.
Childhood asthma is none of those, though any of them may trigger an acute asthma episode. Childhood asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that’s characterized by inflammation of the bronchial tubes and airways in the lungs. The inflammation may begin because of a virus, an allergen or an irritant, or it may be triggered when cold or exercise cause the bronchial tubes to spasm and tighten. Once set in motion, it may be weeks before the symptoms and underlying inflammation are completely healed.
The symptoms of childhood asthma include wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, occurring alone or in combinations with each other. Because of the many conditions that share one or many of those symptoms childhood asthma is particularly difficult to diagnose in children under the age of five. If doctors find it so difficult to diagnose accurately, how can a parent tell if their child has asthma?
Wheezing when breathing, especially on exhale
The wheezing may be loud enough to be heard from a distance. It’s more obvious if you put your ear to the child’s chest and listen. Any sign of squeaking or wheezing is a warning sign of asthma and should be evaluated by a physician. Although wheezing is the most well-known overt symptom of childhood asthma, it is not always present.
Coughing, especially in the absence of a cold
Especially look for coughing after or during physical exercise, after crying and recurrent episodes of night-time coughing. A racking, rattly cough is often one of the most obvious signs of childhood asthma.
Frequent respiratory illnesses
Even before the more obvious symptoms of childhood asthma appear, infants and children with “hidden asthma” may have frequent chest colds, pneumonia and episodes of bronchitis.
Shortness of breath
Most children can’t identify shortness of breath. A parent may notice a child or infant breathing rapidly and shallowly. Other signs that a child may be having trouble catching their breath include:
Flared nostrils when breathing in
Anxious or scared look on the child’s face
Pursed lips trying to draw in breath
Hunched over body posture
Restlessness during sleep
Fatigue that is not related to exercise or activity
The hollow of the throat, just above the Adams apple may move in and out
with each breath.
Spaces between the ribs may deepen during breathing
Noisy, difficult breathing
A lot of throat clearing
If you see or hear any of these symptoms childhood asthma should be considered. If your child has frequent episodes of bronchitis, pneumonia and chest cold symptoms, childhood asthma may be the underlying problem. If you suspect that your child may have undiagnosed or hidden asthma, have him or her evaluated by a doctor.