The most common childhood illness, asthma affects some five million children in the United States. The vast majority of asthmatic children, an estimated eighty percent, develop asthma symptoms before they turn five years old; more than half before they turn three years old. Some 75 to 80 percent of child asthmatics also have allergies.
Childhood Asthma Fast Facts
On an annual basis:
- an estimated 173 thousand children under age eighteen are hospitalized for asthma symptoms
- over 860 thousand children under eighteen receive emergency treatment for asthma
- ten million school days for children ages five to eighteen are lost due to asthma.
Recognizing Asthma in Children
Reducing the number of triggers may prevent some cases of asthma but unders
tanding asthma and how it looks in an infant or child is the best form of defense. The sobering reality is that the majority of infants who die from asthma do so because their parents (and doctors) have failed to identify the seriousness of the infant’s condition.
Identifying symptoms and triggers of asthma in toddlers and infants is not as straightforward as it is in teens and adults. Learn to distinguish between the symptoms of a common cold and those of serious asthmatic bronchitis. Don’t be complacent if your child has a wheezing cough or is breathless. Sometimes asthma symptoms in children are not easily identifiable. Parents can easily misdiagnose the signs as merely “a bit of a wheeze.”
Despite the high diagnosis rate during childhood, research indicates that most cases of childhood or infant asthma do not persist into adulthood. It also suggests that asthma triggers that affect infants and young children often lose their impact in adulthood. This is particularly evident in mild cases of asthma.
Childhood Asthma Symptoms
Persistent hacking or a congested cough, with or without wheezing, can sometimes indicate the onset of childhood asthma.
In addition to coughing, infants may show signs of muscle retractions between the ribcage with breathing (“drawing-in”). An infant may also “flare” at the nostrils while breathing or have difficulty with breast- or bottle-feeding. These are all signs that the infant is working hard to breathe. A very rapid rate of breathing – more than 40 breaths per minute in a sleeping infant – is a warning sign. Talk with your pediatrician or emergency room triage nurse immediately.
School age children with mild undiagnosed asthma may naturally hold back during play or PE class because strenuous activity makes it “hard to breathe” or difficult to “catch their breath.” If you notice that your child complains of chest pain after play, appears to have less stamina than his or her peers, or develops a chronic cough, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician for an asthma evaluation.
Managing Asthma in Children
If your child is of school age, work with his or her teachers, school principal, and any other care providers to ensure your child is receiving appropriate care. Provide them with written instructions in the form of an asthma plan. You can work with your pediatrician to develop a plan for your child.
Follow these guidelines to help control your child’s asthma:
- Don’t smoke or take your child into a smoky environment. Cigarette smoke is a well-known asthma trigger.
- Ask your doctor to test whether your child has become sensitized to dust mite protein. Reduce the likelihood that your child’s stuffed toys are infested with dust mites. Tip: To kill these mites put soft toys in the freezer for 24 hours.
- Make sure that your child knows how to use an inhaler properly. (Does your child possess the latest version? Is a spacer being used?)
- Use a peak flow monitor to measure your child’s breathing capacity daily.
- Limit exposure to strenuous outdoor play in the spring and fall when pollen levels are high.
- Stress and emotions are major asthma triggers. Never underestimate even a baby’s ability to react to a stressful environment.
If a child’s asthma is properly managed there is no reason why he or she should not be able to join peers in play and learning, and sleep should not be affected. Provide regular feedback to your pediatrician about your child’s symptoms. This will help create a custom asthma maintenance program for your child.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma