Asthma is one of the major causes of chronic illnesses in children. 10-15% of US children get affected by it and the percentage is steadily increasing, however the cause for increase remains unknown. In most cases the first symptom occurs at the age of 5, it may even start early.
The symptoms include frequent coughing spells occurring any time during play, night, or while laughing. The other signs are feeling lethargic during play, rapid breathing, chest tightness or chest hurting, whistling or wheezing sound during breathing, see-saw motions or retractions in chest due to labored breathing, shortness or loss of breath, neck and chest muscles tightening, and weakness or tiredness. It is important to note that not all children have similar symptoms of asthma and that different episodes of attack may have different symptoms. Also, all type of coughing and wheezing cannot be associated to asthma. Kids under the age of 5 may mostly get viral infections in the upper respiratory system resulting into asthma. If a child has problem in breathing, a doctor must be consulted immediately for evaluation.
Diagnosis of asthma in infants is often difficult. However, the disease can be diagnosed based on the child’s medical history, physical exam, and symptoms in case of older children. The doctor will check any history related to breathing problems, allergies, eczema (inflammation of the skin) or asthma in the family. The symptoms must be explained in detail for correct diagnosis by the doctor.
During physical examination, the doctor will check the child’s lungs and heart. In many cases pulmonary function tests and chest X-ray may be necessary. Pulmonary function test is also called as lung function test and it measures the capacity of the air that can be held in the lungs and exhalation rate. This helps in determining the severity of asthma. In case of children younger than 5 years doctors have to rely on history, examination, and symptoms to make the diagnosis because this test cannot be performed for them. Other tests are required for identification of particular asthmatic triggers, which may include blood tests, allergy skin testing and X-rays to determine underlying cause such as Gastroesophageal reflux disease (gastrointestinal condition which causes reflux of the stomach’s acidic content into the esophagus or into the lungs) or sinus infection.
An asthma action plan is developed based on the medical history. Suitable medications are prescribed along with actions to be taken when asthma gets worse and when to call for emergency. This plan is important to control asthma successfully. It should be followed on daily basis. Exposure to asthmatic triggers should be limited, and if possible, completely avoided.