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Asthma Health Center

Asthma in Children and Infants

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How Can I Tell if my Child Has Asthma?

Not all children have the same asthma symptoms, and these symptoms can vary from episode to episode in the same child. Possible signs and symptoms of asthma in children include:

  • Frequent coughing spells, which may occur during play, at night, or while laughing or crying
  • A chronic cough (which may be the only symptom)
  • Less energy during play
  • Rapid breathing (intermittently)
  • Complaint of chest tightness or chest "hurting"
  • Whistling sound when breathing in or out -- called wheezing.
  • See-saw motions in the chest from labored breathing. These motions are called retractions.
  • Shortness of breath, loss of breath
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles
  • Feelings of weakness or tiredness

While these are some symptoms of asthma in children, your child's doctor should evaluate any illness that complicates your child's breathing. Many pediatricians use terms like "reactive airways disease" or bronchiolitis when describing episodes of wheezing with shortness of breath or cough in infants and toddlers (even though these illnesses usually respond to asthma medications). Tests to confirm asthma may not be accurate until after age

How Common Is Asthma in Children?

Asthma is the leading cause of chronic illness in children. It affects about 7 million children in the United States and, for unknown reasons, is steadily increasing. Asthma can begin at any age (even in the very elderly), but most children have their first symptoms by age 5.

There are many risk factors for developing childhood asthma. These include:

Why Is the Rate of Asthma in Children Increasing?

No one really knows the exact reasons why more and more children are developing asthma. Some experts suggest that children spend too much time indoors and are exposed to more and more dust, air pollution, and secondhand smoke. Some suspect that children are not exposed to enough childhood illnesses to direct the attention of their immune system to bacteria and viruses.

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