Most parents fear the worst when their child is wheezing and coughing at night. It’s an uneasy feeling to think that a child has trouble with something as basic as breathing. The signs of asthma are often manifested in these symptoms. Now a researcher at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences advises parents to hold on. Before a parent rushes to an asthma specialist, they might want to have their child examined for other illnesses that produce wheezing.
Viral Respiratory Tract Infections and Reactive Airway Disease (RAD)
Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that is produced during exhalation. When a child (or adult) has asthma, it is often heard when there is inflammation or obstruction in the airways. However, wheezing is also a symptom of viral respiratory tract infections and reactive airway disease also known as reactive airway disease (RAD). RAD can be the result of the common cold or influenza. In children up to four years of age, the infection is in the lower respiratory tract (windpipe, airways, and lungs). RAD is the typical diagnosis for children who have asthma-like symptoms but not an infection. When this diagnosis is made, it means that the child is having asthma-like symptoms but is too young to be diagnosed with asthma. Children younger than five are not diagnosed with asthma because they cannot perform the special lung function testing that is used to make a diagnosis. Data suggests that up to half of all children may have at least one episode of wheezing before age three, but only about one-third of those children will definitively develop asthma before the age of six.
Signs of Asthma in Children
Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences suggest to look for the following signs of asthma:
- wheezing that doesn’t go away or is recurring, especially if it occurs at least four times a year and/or affected a child’s ability to sleep
- frequent coughing (especially at night) or coughing that worsens after physical exercise
- a diagnosis of eczema
- a parental history of asthma, allergies, or eczema
- evidence of hay fever
- evidence of allergies to foods
If the child’s asthma symptoms are mild (i.e. only once or twice weekly), an inhaler (albuterol) may be just enough to keep things under control. For children who suffer from more severe symptoms, he/she may need daily anti-inflammatory medication in addition to albuterol treatments to control symptoms. The first step is to speak to a pediatrician about any suspicions of asthma. Working together with a medical professional can offer not only early relief to the child but to the parent as well.