Jennifer, 8, spent most of her school’s winter break coughing and trying to get over a cold. Her parents tried to make her as comfortable as possible so that she could enjoy at least some of the winter holidays.
However, by the end of February, she still wheezed and looked exhausted. The pediatrician, concerned that Jennifer had the symptoms of pediatric asthma, ordered some tests before confirming the diagnosis.
The number of children with asthma has increased worldwide in recent years, according to MedlinePlus. While many experts link the increasing numbers to environmental hazards like air pollution, indoor triggers can be equally important culprits.
How pediatric asthma differs from adult asthma
While the triggers are often the same for both adults and children with asthma, differences in a child’s anatomy can make attacks worse for youngsters. A child’s airway is narrower than an adult’s. As a result, even though a trigger might mean only a slight issue for an adult asthma patient, it can be much worse for a child.
For many children, attacks seem to come out of nowhere, they’re so sudden and severe. These differences make early identification of asthma symptoms and diagnosis extremely important for youngsters.
Common symptoms in children
Adults should be on the lookout for three types of symptoms related to childhood asthma.
Everyday signs. These are the symptoms most commonly associated with the disease. They include coughing, a shortness of breath, chest congestion or a tight feeling, and a wheezing or whistling sound when a child exhales. Some child experience rapid breathing and shortness of breath, even at rest.
Indirect signs. The Mayo Clinic explains that there are other, less-obvious symptoms of asthma in children. A child might have trouble sleeping due to coughing, wheezing, or a shortness of breath. Adults might note that a child experiences bouts of coughing or wheezing that worsen when there’s a respiratory infection like a cold or flu. Sometimes asthma symptoms include taking what seems like forever to get over such an infection or bronchitis. Some children with exercise-induced asthma tire easily or have difficulty breathing during physical activity.
Emergency symptoms. Even without a diagnosis of asthma, an adult should get a child medical attention immediately whenever there is any difficulty breathing. A child should receive emergency care if he or she is breathing so hard that it’s impossible to finish a sentence without stopping to catch a breath. Two other signs are using the abdominal muscles to breathe and widening of the nostrils when the child inhales. Sometimes a child who needs emergency treatment must try so hard to breathe that his or her abdomen gets sucked under the ribs during inhalation.
Doctors have identified many substances that can cause the symptoms of pediatric asthma and lead to an attack. However, some children appear to have asthma symptoms without any apparent triggers.
It’s important for adults to make sure that once their child has been diagnosed, the pediatrician and any other physicians involved in care draw up a written treatment plan. It should be based in part on input from the child’s family and should clearly outline what to do when specific symptoms occur. Having a written plan, monitoring the child’s condition, and seeing a doctor regularly can help keep pediatric asthma under control.
Mayo Clinic site