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How Can I Tell if My Child Has Asthma?

You can tell if your children have asthma based on their age and changes in various areas. First, you have to observe their symptoms. When a child has difficulty speaking, or when you notice they’re excessively coughing, these are the most obvious detections that your child may have signs or symptoms of asthma. You also may notice fatigue, lethargy, and other symptoms often associated with allergies. These symptoms may occur at an early age, but unfortunately, certain asthma tests cannot be performed on infants before the age of two. 

Difficulties in managing asthma in young children

Diagnosing and managing asthma in children under age five can be difficult. In infants and young children, the primary symptoms of asthma — wheezing and coughing — may be caused by other conditions. So, how do you know it's asthma? Also, standard diagnostic tests used to measure how well someone is breathing cannot be used easily or accurately with children under age five. Some treatments that are available for older children for managing asthma are not recommended for infants and preschool children. For these reasons, the management of asthma in children under five years old requires careful and relatively frequent monitoring.

Create an asthma action plan

You can help minimize asthma symptoms by following a written asthma action plan that you should develop with your child's doctor to monitor symptoms and adjust treatment as necessary. After the age of five, you can carry out respiratory testing in children and do what’s called a pulmonary function test, which is a breath test that can determine much air is flowing in and out of the lungs. If your doctor suspects your child has asthma, he or she will likely prescribe a trial treatment. If your child has relatively mild and infrequent symptoms, he or she may take a short-acting drug. If breathing improves in the time and manner expected for that treatment, the improved breathing would support a diagnosis of asthma.

Today, children are responding well to asthma testing and treatments. There are other more sophisticated ways of diagnosing asthma, but one of the most important determining factors for children, particularly in very young children, are the initial symptoms. Those would include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Chronic cough
  • Fatigue

Treating long-term symptoms

If the symptoms are more regular or severe, your doctor will likely begin a drug for long-term management. Improvement during the next four to six weeks would support a diagnosis and lay the groundwork for an ongoing treatment plan. It's important for you to keep track of your child's symptoms during a treatment trial and to follow instructions carefully. If you have followed the instructions and there is no improvement within the trial period, your doctor will likely consider another diagnosis. Depending on the triggers of your child's asthma, make adjustments at home, as well as in child care facilities and other environments to minimize your child's exposure to triggers.

Children with asthma should also get a flu shot each fall. However, those with egg allergies should get the nasal-spray version of the flu vaccine according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because the injected version of the vaccine contains a very small amount of egg protein. 

Overall, if you have a child with asthma, it is crucial to develop a plan with your child's doctor for treatment and management. Follow this plan strictly, and note observations in changes, improvements, or worsening of health.