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Symptoms of Asthma in Children

Updated on March 12, 2011

The symptoms of asthma in children can sometimes be hard to recognize, especially with parents who have not been around someone with asthma. Asthma symptoms can sometimes appear as a cold or respiratory infection, leading to coughing and difficulty breathing. At the same time, colds and infections can trigger symptoms in children with asthma, making it harder to breathe. For parents of toddlers and infants, recognizing asthma symptoms can help not only make breathing easier for your child but also potentially save your child’s life. While most symptoms of asthma are not life-threatening, asthma symptoms that are not treated can lead to a loss of oxygen and more severe breathing problems.

Childhood Asthma
Childhood Asthma

One of the most obvious signs of asthma problems is wheezing or difficulty breathing. A child may first appear short of breath and then develop wheezing. A wheeze is an audible breath sound that can be heard on either inhalation or expiration of air from the lungs. However, wheezing may not be present with all asthma episodes. In more severe cases, wheezing becomes less audible, and the child may not be able to move air at all. By putting your ear to the child’s lungs, you can hear breath sounds that will be able to tell you if the child is able to move air at all. When breathing is exceptionally difficult for children with asthma, blue fingertips or blue lips may also be noticed. In these cases, it is necessary to seek immediate medical attention.

Coughing is also a common asthma symptom in children, and is exacerbated by increased production of mucous. This is why some asthma symptoms are commonly mistaken for colds or other types of infections. When an asthma episode occurs, the lining of the lungs react to allergens in the air. The immune system perceives the allergen as an invader, and inflammation occurs in the cells of the lungs. The inflammation decreases the size of the airways, making it harder to move air throughout the lungs.

In addition to the inflammation, mucous production is increased in order to move allergens out of the airways. Because of this, coughing is common and a runny nose can also occur. Breathing may also be difficult during exercise or physical exertion. This is referred to as exercise-induced asthma. Some children who do not regularly have asthma symptoms may be prone to exercise-induced asthma, experiencing difficulty breathing only during routine exercise or when playing team sports.


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