Doctors are sometimes reluctant to diagnose asthma in children who are younger than four or five years old because there are many conditions which are similar that may eventually be outgrown by the child. If your child has a tendency to wheeze when breathing, however, you probably don't want to wait it out a few years for a proper diagnosis.
Symptoms of Asthma in Children
Asthma can affect children differently. Some kids have a particularly difficult time with breathing when they have colds or some other type of illness, while other kids only seem to have trouble breathing when they are running around and exercising. This is part of the reason why it can be so difficult for both the parents and the doctors to figure out exactly what the problem is. In either case though, it is important to keep paying attention to the symptoms and trying out various treatments in order to make a proper diagnosis, and get the care that your child needs.
Some children's asthma is set off by certain environmental triggers, so if your child only starts to wheeze when you light up a cigarette, don't chalk it up to a mere allergy to the toxins in the smoke. Asthma attacks can be brought on by cigarette smoke, and need to be treated as the serious physical reaction that they are. Asthma attacks can also occur sporadically, without warning, and without being linked to any specific cause.
If you suspect your child has asthma, it is imperative that you take your child in to visit the doctor as soon as possible for an evaluation. If you are unsure of what kinds of breathing problems your child may have, also bring him or her to the doctor as soon as possible.
Asthma Attacks in Kids
If your child has an asthma attack, respond quickly and drastically. Call 911 if you notice these symptoms:
- Lips or fingernails turn blue (lack of oxygen)
- You can see spaces between the child's ribs when he or she tries to breathe (difficulty breathing)
- The child has difficulty speaking (expelling air is the engine of speech)
- If the child has already been diagnosed with asthma and carries an inhaler, failure for the inhaler to remedy the situation means you should get emergency medical care as soon as possible.
Asthma attacks are a very serious medical condition; as such, getting the child to emergency services as quickly as possible is of extreme importance.
Doctors and Asthma
Diagnosing asthma can be difficult to do, especially in children. Young children often get inaccurate results on pulmonary functioning tests, which makes doing the tests inconclusive. Instead, many doctors diagnose asthma in young children by the symptoms they present, as well as their response to asthma medications. While you may be hesitant to give your child medications before knowing for sure if he or she has asthma, failing to treat the asthma can have much worse side effects than offering a medication that may not be necessary.
Some of the common misdiagnoses of asthma include the following:
- Allergies: Although seasonal allergies and other allergic reactions can be quite dangerous, there are usually different treatments for allergies than there are for asthma.
- Recurring Sinus Infections: Some babies and kids are simply more prone to sinus infections, and if the infections occur frequently enough without a proper diagnosis, it may start to look like asthma.
- Enlarged Adenoids: There are some babies and children with enlarged adenoids which are so large that they actually obstruct some of the air entering the body, resulting in a wheezing or rattling sound.
- Laryngeal Malaise: Sometimes the airways of babies and younger children are simply not as rigid as they should be, and this can result in a wheezing or rattling sound especially during a bought with a cold.
It is important to receive a correct diagnosis when your child has breathing problems because you want to treat the condition correctly. For example, children with enlarged adenoids can have surgery to correct the problem, and young kids with Laryngeal Malaise usually completely outgrow the problem around age six or seven. However, if your child has asthma, it will need to be treated. Waiting to find out if it's another diagnosis can put your child's health in jeopardy if it turns out they he or she does, indeed, have asthma.
It is worth it to seek out a second opinion when a doctor diagnoses your child with asthma, but you can usually see for yourself the connection between the symptoms and the effect of any medication the doctor has prescribed. A child's response to inhalers, for example, should make clear whether or not the root problem has been accurately identified.
Proper Asthma Diagnosis
If your child definitely has asthma then there are some steps you will want to take:
- Figure out what triggers asthma attacks. If you notice that your child always seems to have trouble breathing after visiting a certain friend then examine what is different at the friend's house. Are there pets, plants, or something else which your child doesn't usually come into contact with?
- Stay connected with your doctor. A competent doctor can be your child's best friend when it comes to living with asthma. Your doctor should know the best ways to treat your child's asthma while also not being reluctant to explore other options you might suggest.
- Ensure that everyone knows what to do in an asthma attack. Although you might feel overprotective, make sure that all caregivers, teachers, and parents of your child's friends' know the symptoms of an asthma attack and what they should do in the event of an attack.
- Don't excessively shelter your child. Your child will probably deal with asthma for the rest of his or her life. The last thing parents should do is to put the idea in their child's head that they are too delicate and sickly to go out and enjoy life.
For more specific information on the physiological effects of asthma or pending legislation, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website or the Asthma Information Page from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.