May 8, 2000 -- The trick with asthma is catching it early, especially in the very young. More than half the cases in kids under 5 go undiagnosed, and untreated asthma can make the condition worse. "Asthma is very hard to diagnose in young children," says Robert Nathan, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and a member of the board of directors at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. "Infants can't tell you their chest feels tight." Therefore, parents of the youngest kids need to be especially vigilant for the early warning signs of asthma.
It is not uncommon for the disease to be diagnosed when a child's first major asthma attack requires a trip to the emergency room. But doctors hope to prevent this scenario by educating parents about warning signs in order to help them spot the disease earlier.
The main indicators of asthma are wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest-tightening. A chronic cough is another big clue, especially if there is no obvious cause. While it's not unusual for toddlers to have runny noses, parents should pay attention to a nose that is always running, as this could be a signal that the airway tissues are producing too much mucus. Children with asthma are also more susceptible to respiratory infections.
Parents should also be aware that the disease has hereditary links, so if it is known to run in their families, any of these symptoms could be a good reason to ask a doctor about asthma.
Will Wade is a San Francisco-based writer. He has a 4-year-old daughter and was the co-founder of a monthly parenting magazine. His work has appeared in POV Magazine and The San Francisco Examiner.