Did you know that asthma—a chronic inflammatory condition of the bronchial airways—affects nearly five million children in the United States? Asthma is now so widespread, it is the most common of all childhood illnesses.
Common, however, doesn't mean it isn't serious. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, asthma-related illnesses are responsible for an estimated 860,000 emergency treatments and 170,000 hospitalizations of children each year.
Since 80 percent of children first exhibit asthma symptoms before the age of five, it's important for parents of young children to be aware of the early signs.
Recognizing Asthma in Children
Because babies and toddlers have smaller bronchial tubes than adults or older children, even small blockages from viral infections, mucus, or tightened airways may make breathing difficult and produce symptoms hard to distinguish from asthma. Croup, bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, upper respiratory tract viruses, gastroesophageal reflux, and congenital abnormalities are among these that can mimic asthma.
Asthma attacks, however, are an allergic reaction to irritants in the environment. Common triggers include cold air, exercise, some types of viral infections, and allergens like dust mites, mold, pollen, or animal dander. When the bronchial airways are exposed to the trigger, inflammation and swelling result that make breathing difficult, and in some cases, may be life threatening.
Wheezing is usually thought of as the hallmark of asthma, however, persistent hacking or a congested cough may indicate its onset, with or without the presence of wheezing.
Babies and toddlers may also exhibit the following symptoms:
- Noisy, rapid breathing; respiration in excess of more than 40 breaths per minute during a resting state.
- Wheezing or panting during normal, non-strenuous activity.
- Flared nostrils while breathing or difficulty with feeding, whether from breast or bottle.