If you've noticed your toddler or preschooler having coughing spells or appearing to be out of breath a lot, you would naturally be concerned about this. Asthma has been on the rise, and medical researchers aren't entirely sure why. There is speculation that it could be due to exposure to second-hand smoke, air pollution, allergies to modern materials, or lowered immune system function. Asthma is a serious condition, so early diagnosis and treatment are vital.
Asthma occurs more frequently with children who have a family history of allergies or asthma, had a low birth weight, have eczema, or have been frequently exposed to tobacco smoke. They will have coughing spells at night or while playing during the day. Other signs and symptoms may present that include:
Frequent shortness of breath, especially during play.
Complaints that their chest "hurts" or feels funny (tight).
Rapid or labored breathing and/or wheezing (whistling sound).
Dark circles under the eyes.
Lack of appetite.
Tight chest muscles.
Complaining that their head hurts, frequently.
To diagnose asthma, your child's pediatrician will ask you questions about the child's family history, signs and symptoms, environment, and allergies. He/she will also listen to your child's lungs as part of the exam.
To aid in diagnosis, it would be helpful to the doctor if you kept a record of times the child experienced the symptoms and any other particulars surrounding the incidents. With these things, a diagnosis may be made, but X-rays, allergy testing, and blood draws may be ordered to identify triggers and to rule out other conditions.
Treatment is tricky for small children, so the pediatrician can prescribe certain medicines and therapies and then ask you to track how well they are working for your child. This will help in determining proper dosage and what combination of treatments are most effective.
Medicine often prescribed can include:
Montelucast, to work with the corticosteroids,
A combination of corticosteroids and a long-acting beta agonist (LABA), and/or
A bronchodilator such as albuterol will also be prescribed for short term relief, but very frequent use indicates that more or different medications may be needed.
A small child may be taught to use an inhaler, but regular daily (or nightly) treatments will involve using a nebulizer with a face mask.
Basically anything your child is sensitive or allergic to can trigger an attack, so track these incidents along with what the child was exposed to at the time. Reactions can be caused by pet dander, secondhand smoke, outdoor air pollution, seasonal allergies, dust mites and more.
Caring for a small child with asthma can be stressful at times. There are groups available to offer support and tips for coping, and you can find them by doing an online search or the physician can advise you of local groups.
Be sure to track signs, symptoms, and effects of medicines to aid the pediatrician in diagnosis and effective treatment. Also, learn to monitor your child's environment and activities to avoid triggering an attack. Give medical treatments regularly as directed by the physician, and take advantage of support wherever you can find it. Finally, you should seek emergency medical treatment for your child if he/she is gasping for air or otherwise appears to be in serious distress.