While asthma affects people of all ages, children with asthma have special concerns. If your child has asthma, read on to learn how children with asthma are diagnosed and treated, and what unique health considerations you should keep in mind.
Diagnosing Asthma in Young Children
Most children who have asthma develop their first symptoms before 5 years of age. However, asthma in young children can be hard to diagnose. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a child has asthma or another childhood condition because the symptoms of both conditions can be similar.
Not all young children who have wheezing episodes when they get colds or respiratory infections develop asthma. The wheezing may happen when a child's already-small airways get inflamed by an illness. Because airways grow as a child ages, wheezing may no longer occur when an older child gets a cold.
A young child who frequently wheezes with colds or respiratory infections is more likely to have asthma if:
- a parent has asthma
- the child has signs of allergies, including the allergic skin condition eczema
- the child wheezes even when he or she doesn't have a cold or other infection
To help your pediatrician make a correct diagnosis, be prepared to provide information about your family history of asthma or allergies, your child's overall behavior, breathing patterns and responses to foods or possible allergy triggers. Lung function tests—often used to make a definitive asthma diagnosis—are very hard to do with young children. The doctor may use a four- to six-week trial of asthma medicines to see if they make a difference in your child's symptoms.
Learning Asthma Self-management Skills
Children benefit from being empowered to manage their own asthma and make healthy choices as soon as they are developmentally ready. Talk to your pediatrician and your child about setting specific management goals and follow up on these each visit, since they should change as your child grows.
- The American Lung Association's Open Airways For Schools program is designed to teach children ages 8 to 11 years to manage their asthma and lead healthier, active lives.
- Is your child ready to self-carry? People with asthma should have a quick-relief inhaler with them at all times in case they start to have trouble breathing. Use the Student Readiness Assessment Tool to help you see if your child is ready to self-carry and use their asthma inhaler.
A Special Word about Asthma and Teens
The rebelliousness and need for independence that comes with adolescence can be especially difficult for teens with asthma and their families. Children who have been responsibly managing their asthma for years may start to have more problems with symptoms. This could be caused by hormonal changes, or by attitude and behavioral changes. Here are a few things that might be causing problems for your teen.
Asthma in Schools: The Basics for Parents
The air children breathe in school is critical to their success in the classroom and their overall health. As a parent or caretaker, learn how you can work with your community to support healthy air at school, keeping students with asthma healthy and ready to learn. Here are some resources that can help.
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Page last updated: April 2, 2020