Posted: Feb 01, 2013 9:00 AM
Some kids seem to catch a cold in October and never get over it. When a virus leads to coughing that won’t stop, maybe it’s time for a second look. Do you know the most common signs of asthma in children? Asthma isn’t always recognizable the first few times it affects your child. When should you discuss asthma with your pediatrician?

Watching your child struggle to breathe is scary — for both of you. When she just doesn't seem to be getting any better, there may be something more going on than just a cold or allergies. Asthma is a chronic condition that approximately 9 percent of children in the U.S. are dealing with. What do you need to know about asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition that approximately 9 percent of children in the U.S. are dealing with.

What is asthma?

Two things are happening in your airways when you have asthma — inflammation and constriction. Something triggers your immune system, which overreacts and creates inflammation in the lining of your airways. Excess mucus obstructs the airways, making breathing difficult. Your immune system can also cause airway constriction, making breathing even more difficult. The right asthma medications can reduce inflammation and help keep asthma under control.

Symptoms to watch for

Many of the symptoms of asthma are also present during a cold, which can make diagnosis tricky. In some cases, a chronic cough may be the only symptom. We checked with our own Dr. Mom, Melissa Arca, M.D., and asked what symptoms we should be on the lookout for.

  • Frequent coughing spells, which may occur during play, at night, or while laughing or crying
  • A chronic cough
  • Less energy or feeling weak
  • Rapid breathing (intermittently)
  • Chest tightness or chest hurting
  • Whistling sound — called wheezing — when breathing in or out
  • See-saw motions in the chest — called retractions — from labored breathing
  • Shortness of breath


There are many things that can trigger an asthma attack. Some people have allergies that trigger their asthma, while others may find that their asthma is triggered when they have a cold or virus. Swimming in cold water can be a trigger, as can breathing cold air or exercising. Finding out what triggers your child's asthma can help you manage it better.


If your child is having any difficulty breathing at all, you should consult your doctor. He will be interested in your child's symptoms and severity, details about when the symptoms are occurring, and any family history of asthma or allergies. The doctor will listen to your child's lungs and have her do a quick lung function test called spirometry, measuring the amount of air in the lungs and how quickly your child can exhale. Your doctor may also order various allergy testing to help determine what triggers your child's asthma.


If your child is diagnosed with asthma, your doctor will develop an asthma action plan to help you manage the disease. Based on three levels of asthma difficulties — green, yellow or red — the action plan will describe what to do when asthma gets worse and when emergency care is needed. This action plan can be shared with other adults who care for your child, so that everyone understands exactly what to do when asthma symptoms get worse.

Moving forward

If your child is diagnosed with asthma, don't fret. Asthma can be very well managed when you know what you're dealing with.

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