As many as 6.1 million children suffer from asthma, making it the most common chronic condition among kids. You may know severe wheezing, coughing, and struggling to breathe are signs of asthma, but your child’s symptoms may not always be so obvious.
In many cases, it’s challenging to determine if your child’s cough is simply due to a viral infection or because they have chronic inflammation of the airways from asthma.
Marget Lubega, MD, of First Pediatric Care Center in Gastonia, North Carolina, provides expert evaluation and care for our young patients who show the signs of asthma. Here’s what to watch for in your child and when to bring them in for a breathing assessment.
An occasional cough is usually nothing to worry about, but if your child seems to cough loudly and especially if the cough worsens at night, it could be a sign of asthma. When your child comes down with a cold, you may notice that their coughing significantly worsens, too.
Notice how long your child’s cough lasts. If it’s just a week or two, it’s likely the result of a cold or other passing respiratory infection. But, if the cough persists for three weeks or longer, it deserves evaluation at our office.
If you notice your child wheezes at the end of a cough or when they exhale, it is a warning sign of asthma. These wheezes may sound like a whistle or squeaky toy, but sometimes can be subtle and may only be detected with a stethoscope.
Complaints about breathing
If your child is old enough to describe their symptoms, they may complain about feeling tightness in their chest. Babies who have asthma may pant or breathe so heavily that their belly rises and falls rapidly.
Changes in their quality of life
Asthma symptoms like coughing and wheezing can disrupt your child’s ability to sleep. They may recover much more slowly from respiratory infections as compared to healthy peers.
Asthma symptoms can also interfere with play or sports practice. Your child may also seem to be tired all the time, likely because their coughing and wheezing interrupts their sleep.
Sometimes a cough seems just like a cold symptom. But, if you pay attention to the pattern of when your child has a cough, you may learn things that make you suspect asthma.
If your child has several respiratory “colds” per year, if the cough worsens after activity or in response to the seasons (allergies), or if your child coughs uncontrollably after laughing or crying, it’s probably more than just a regular cold.
Kids who have seasonal allergies or eczema are more likely to develop asthma. So, if your child has unusual coughing plus one of these conditions, it’s reasonable to get them a breathing evaluation. If one of the child’s parents has asthma, that also increases their risk of developing the condition.
Kids born prematurely, meaning before the 37th week of gestation, tend to be more vulnerable to asthma. Other risk factors include being male, being of African-American or Hispanic descent or having consistent exposure to second-hand smoke.
If Dr. Lubega suspects asthma, she conducts a lung-function test or has your child use a peak-flow meter to assess their breathing abilities. These tests may not be effective on children younger than 4 as they have more trouble following directions.
Even if the tests can’t effectively be used, she can send you home with an inhalable bronchodilator medication to see if it helps when your child struggles with breathing. These medications ease inflammation in the airways and reduce coughing instances and severity.
If you suspect your child has asthma, contact First Pediatric Care Center today. Call our office or use the online tool to book your appointment.