Asthma, the most common serious chronic disease among children, is an inflammation and narrowing of the airways that causes difficulty breathing. (Often the term "asthma" is used to describe the symptom of wheezing, not its cause or its duration.) Allergens, such as pollens, mold spores, and animal danders; airway pollutants (including cigarette smoke and paint fumes); viral respiratory infections; and occasionally exercise or inhaling cold air can bring on an asthmatic attack.
Although asthma can be a serious and chronic health problem, with careful management most children with asthma are able to live normal, active lives. Its severity usually diminishes as the child grows and the airways enlarge.
What are some signs that my baby may have asthma?
Your baby may have asthma if he or she coughs a lot (especially at night) or has allergies, eczema, or a family history of these symptoms. Possible signs of an attack include rapid breathing, persistent coughing, wheezing, whistling or grunting when exhaling, sucking in the muscles around the ribs, flaring the nostrils with each breath, fatigue, and skin that turns blue.
If you think your baby is having an asthma attack or difficulty breathing – especially if he or she is pulling in at the neck, ribs, or abdomen upon inhalation or grunting when exhaling – immediately call your baby's doctor or take your baby to the emergency room. Also call for immediate help if your baby's lips or fingertips appear blue or if he or she acts lethargic, agitated, or confused.
Although it's common for a cold to uncover a child's tendency to wheeze, a chronic nighttime cough more commonly indicates underlying asthma. Call your baby's doctor if your child has difficulty sleeping because of wheezing, coughing, or trouble breathing.
What should I do if my baby has asthma?
If the diagnosis is asthma, your baby's doctor will discuss the many ways this problem can be managed. Together you can figure out which situations are likely to trigger asthmatic attacks – perhaps respiratory ailments or something environmental, such as allergens or cigarette smoke.
It may be helpful to use a cool-mist vaporizer in your baby's room. Allergy testing can also be useful, as can removing allergens from the environment. You might consider eliminating rugs, curtains, and stuffed animals from your child's room to decrease dust and dust mite exposure, for instance.
You'll also need to educate your baby's caregivers about asthma and its treatment. Medical treatment includes inhaled bronchodilators to open the airways, anti-inflammatory medications to decrease airway inflammation, antibiotics if there's a secondary infection underlying an attack, and identification and avoidance of allergic triggers. Stay kamsified!