Understanding and Managing Childhood Asthma

By: Renown Wellness Team

November 01, 2023

A man with a child using an inhaler

Dr. Shipra Singh, a Pediatric Pulmonologist, outlines the challenges of diagnosing asthma in children due to symptoms resembling other respiratory issues. It's particularly difficult to identify in infants and young children, who may not clearly exhibit breathing difficulties.
Asthma, often confused with bronchitis, croup, or allergies, is a significant chronic illness causing school absenteeism, as per the CDC. Risk factors include prenatal smoking and family history of allergies or asthma. Infants and toddlers are more susceptible due to smaller airways and respiratory viruses, which can exacerbate conditions like colds and bronchitis.

How can I tell if my child has asthma?

Unfortunately small children are unable to describe their symptoms, making asthma difficult to diagnose. Your child may even be active, playing and smiling, although they are experiencing chest tightness or labored breathing. Observe your child and let the child’s doctor know if:
  • Your child’s breathing behavior has changed (coughing, wheezing, rapid breathing)
  • Your child’s breathing pattern changes (day vs. night, with rest or activity, inside vs. outside)
  • You have a family history of asthma or allergies
  • Your child’s breathing is triggered by any foods or allergies

With your help, your child’s doctor can make the best diagnosis to determine if your child has asthma. A pediatric pulmonologist (lung specialist) or pediatric allergist may also have to be consulted for special testing. Tests may include lung function testing, allergy tests, blood tests and X-rays for an accurate diagnosis.

What is the treatment for infants and toddlers?

Young children can use many of the same medications as older children and adults, although the way they take them and the dosage will differ. A nebulizer (or breathing machine) creating a medicated mist for your child to breathe through a mask may be used. An inhaler with a small spacer tube connected to a mask is also common to help your child breath medication into their lungs. Either of these options are effective.

Asthma in children is treated with both fast-acting and long-term medicines to open up airways quickly for easy breathing and also to lessen asthma symptoms over time. Communicate with your child’s medical providers to create a personalized asthma management plan for them.

How can I manage my child’s asthma?

  • Recognize your child’s breathing habits and be aware of worsening symptoms.
  • Consult with your child’s doctor on a daily asthma action plan to recognize worsening symptoms and track medications. Here’s an example of an asthma action plan provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health). Be consistent with the plan and talk to your doctor before changing it.
  • Have an emergency plan in case of a serious asthma attack. Know where the closest ER is and know who can take care of your other children. Also know what the medical treatment coverage is under your insurance plan.

Dr. Singh explains, "Discussing asthma with your child may be difficult. Some kids find the subject frightening or confusing. Others, especially the older kids, may resent the treatment and may not be interested in doing it. Talk to your doctor about advice to build an open and trusting relationship regarding your child's asthma care."

What can I do to reduce my child’s asthma?

  • Know your child’s asthma triggers (dust, pets, pollen, etc.)
  • Follow your asthma action plan
  • Keep your child away from smoke

Can my child outgrow their asthma?

Asthma symptoms change day to day and year to year. An older child can better recognize and manage their symptoms, so asthma episodes may lessen. However asthma is a life-long condition of the airways, so it is important to always have an asthma action plan, even with occasional asthma events.

Asthma resources for parents:

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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