Symptoms of Childhood Asthma

Discover Wisconsin

March 27, 2020

Although it is difficult to predict which children will develop asthma, studies have identified certain risk factors for asthma in children:

  • Diagnosed allergies, including skin and food allergies or allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • A family history of allergies or asthma
  • Prenatal and postnatal exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Obesity
  • Living in an area with high air pollution

There is no cure for asthma. And, uncontrolled asthma in children can result in permanent lung damage. But for most children, asthma can be controlled with appropriate treatment and management.
Symptoms of Childhood Asthma
Diagnosing asthma in children can be difficult. Many children will go symptom-free for long periods of time before having an asthma attack. The symptoms of asthma can be confused with those of other respiratory diseases. And depending on your child’s age, it may be difficult for him or her to explain his or her symptoms.
Children with asthma may show the same symptoms as adults with asthma, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. In some children, chronic cough may be the only symptom.
If your child has one or more of these common symptoms, make an appointment with an allergist / immunologist:

  • Coughing that is constant or made worse by viral infections, happens while your child is asleep or is triggered by exercise or cold air
  • Wheezing or whistling sound when your child exhales
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing, which may be associated with exercise
  • Chest tightness (a young child may say that his chest “hurts” or “feels funny”)
  • Fatigue (your child slows down or stops playing)
  • Problems feeding or grunting during feeding (infants)
  • Avoiding sports or social activities
  • Problems sleeping due to coughing or difficulty breathing

Asthma symptoms or flare-ups are most commonly caused viral infections (colds). Allergies are another common trigger: exposure to dust mites, dander from dogs or cats, pollen and other environmental allergens can cause an asthma attack. Inmany children, asthma can be caused by non-allergic triggers such as cold air, pollution or exercise.

Patterns in asthma symptoms are important and can help your doctor make a diagnosis. Pay attention to when symptoms occur:

  • At night or early morning
  • During or after exercise
  • During certain seasons
  • After laughing or crying
  • When exposed to common asthma triggers

Asthma is a chronic illness, but it doesn’t have to be a progressively debilitating disease for most children.
An accurate diagnosis and an asthma action plan could mean the difference between your child sitting on the sidelines or fully participating in activities with family and friends. You, your child and your allergist / immunologist can work together to ensure that asthma doesn’t take control of your child’s quality of life.
Learn more about asthma symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and management.

This article has been reviewed by Daniel Jackson, MD, UW SMPH and  ThanaiPongdee, MD, FAAAAI
Daniel JacksonDr. Daniel J. Jackson earned his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (formerly UW Medical School), Madison, WI and completed his residency at the University of California – Davis.  He completed his fellowship at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and is board certified in allergy & immunology and pediatrics.  He is on faculty, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

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