The Asthma Corner
How Do I Know My Child Has Asthma?
The symptoms of asthma include shortness of breath, wheezing, and/or coughing. Sometimes these symptoms occur alone, sometimes in different combinations. Other respiratory illnesses have similar symptoms. But in children with asthma these symptoms usually keep coming back over several months or even years. So it's important to also recognize a pattern or history of symptoms.
The most common symptom is wheezing, which is a high pitched breathing sound, especially noticeable as the child breathes out. Other indicators of a more serious episode include rapid breathing, prolonged exhaling, or exaggerated use of the muscles in the chest and neck to assist breathing. It's important that parents and care-givers are able to recognize asthma symptoms, to help determine severity and the need for medication, and to help monitor the effectiveness of the child's treatment program.
Still, a child can have asthma even though he never wheezes. In fact about 5% of asthmatic children have a cough as their only symptom. It's also possible that a child who has frequent or prolonged "cold" symptoms has asthma, even though they've yet to have a recognizable asthma attack.
For those younger than 6 years of age, the diagnosis of asthma is usually based on a history of the child's symptoms. In older children, special breathing tests can help in the assessment of asthma. But because most children develop asthma within the first two years of life, a history of symptoms is often all we have to rely on.
Children often develop a pattern of symptoms that parents can learn to recognize. Recognizing these patterns can help you and your doctor determine effective treatment. Remember however, that asthma symptoms change and new ones can appear in the same child.
As time goes by you'll be able to recognize the signs of an on-coming attack earlier! In the meantime, to understand your child's asthma symptoms, you should understand what happens to the body during an asthma attack.