Asthma in Children and Infants
How Is Asthma Diagnosed in Children?
Asthma in children can often be diagnosed based on medical history, symptoms, and a physical exam. Keep in mind that oftentimes when you take your infant or older child to the doctor with asthma symptoms, the symptoms may be gone by the time the doctor evaluates the child. That's why parents are key in helping the doctor understand the child's signs and symptoms of asthma.
- Medical history and asthma symptom description: Your child's doctor will be interested in any history of breathing problems you or your child may have had, as well as a family history of asthma, allergies, a skin condition called eczema, or other lung disease. It is important that you describe your child's symptoms -- cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain, or tightness -- in detail, including when and how often these symptoms have been occurring.
- Physical exam: During the physical exam, the doctor will listen to your child's heart and lungs and look for signs of an allergic nose or eyes.
- Tests: Many children will also have a chest X-ray and, for those ages 6 and older, a simple lung function test called spirometry. Spirometry measures the amount of air in the lungs and how fast it can be exhaled. The results help the doctor determine how severe the asthma is. Other tests may also be ordered to help identify particular "asthma triggers" for your child's asthma. These tests may include allergy skin testing, blood tests (IgE or RAST), and X-rays to determine if sinus infections or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are complicating asthma. An asthma test that measures the amount of nitric oxide in the breath (eNO) is available in some places.
How Is Asthma Treated in Children?
Avoiding triggers, using medications, and keeping an eye on daily asthma symptoms are the ways to control asthma in children of all ages. Children with asthma should always be kept away from all sources of smoke. Proper use of medication is the basis of good asthma control.
Based on your child's history and the severity of asthma, his or her doctor will develop an Asthma Action Plan and give you a written copy. This plan describes when and how your child should use asthma drugs, what to do when asthma gets worse (falls into the yellow or red zones), and when to seek emergency care for your child. Make sure you understand this plan and ask your child's doctor any questions you may have.
Your child's written Asthma Action Plan is important to the successful control of his or her asthma. Keep it handy to remind you of your child's daily asthma management plan as well as to guide you when your child develops asthma symptoms. Also make sure your child's caregiver and school teacher has a copy of the Asthma Action Plan, so they will know how to treat the child's symptoms if she should have an asthma attack away from home.
For more information and for a printable asthma action plan, see WebMD's article on Developing an Asthma Action Plan.