Childhood Asthma: Know the Signs and Symptoms

Huong Fralin's picture
By Huong Fralin on August 26, 2019

Did you know that more children are hospitalized for asthma in September than at any other time of the year?

“Back-to-school time is a peak time for asthma symptoms because that’s when viruses spark,” says Laura Dziadzio, M.D., a Carilion Children’s pediatric pulmonology and allergy expert.

“There are also certain kinds of mold that peak in the fall which can trigger symptoms for those with more significant asthma.”

What is asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory condition that makes it harder to move air in and out of your lungs. It’s known as “reversible airway obstruction,” and can be minor, or significant enough that it can interfere with daily activities, such as running and exercising.

Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • A whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling
  • Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or flu

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, factors that can trigger an asthma attack include:

  • Environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores and pet dander
  • Cold weather when the air is dry
  • Exercise
  • Respiratory illness
  • Airborne substances such as chemical fumes, gases, dust and smoke

“Cockroaches can also be a huge trigger for asthma," says Dr. Dziadzio. “Not many people know this, but cockroaches also have dander.”

When should your child see a doctor?
“If your child is waking up in the middle of the night, coughing or wheezing when they don’t have a cold, that can be a red flag,” says Dr. Dziadzio.

If your child also has seasonal or food allergies or eczema, they’re often at a higher risk for asthma. It can also be genetic, so make sure to mention any family history of asthma to your child’s pediatrician.

Pulmonary function tests can be given to a child who is at least five-years-old, which can provide information about how much air they can blow out, and how quickly they can do so.

“The thing with asthma is that it’s not so much about the total lung volume,” explains Dr. Dziadzio. “They may be able to get nice big breaths in, but it takes longer for them to blow the air out.”

The important thing to remember is that asthma can be controlled, or even outgrown. Just because your child may be asthmatic, it doesn’t mean that they can’t play sports or have fun on the playground.

“Rescue inhalers can not only be helpful in calming asthma symptoms, but it can also be used 15 minutes before your child is scheduled to exercise or play a sport to prevent them from having problems,” says Dr. Dziadzio.

Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening. If your child is experiencing rapid worsening of shortness of breath or wheezing, or no improvement after using an inhaler, seek emergency treatment. If you suspect that your child may have asthma, consult with your child’s pediatrician to determine whether they should be tested, or referred to a specialist.