In the United States, despite medical advances, childhood asthma remains the leading cause of missed school days, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations. Children affected with asthma may have difficulty exercising, sleeping, and participating in regular childhood activities, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Often, it can be difficult for parents to distinguish between illnesses and those ailments that require consultation with an asthma specialist. According to The Asthma Center Education and Research Fund, many conditions can mimic asthmalike symptoms including rhinitis, sinusitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and respiratory syncytial virus. So when do your child's symptoms warrant a referral to a pediatric asthma specialist?
Childhood Asthma Symptoms
Nearly 9 million American children have been diagnosed with asthma, and most exhibit symptoms before their fifth birthday. In younger children, it can be difficult to identify asthma symptoms because their bronchial tubes are small and narrow, and become inflamed easily from colds and other illnesses, says the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Your child may have only one or more of these symptoms, often reoccurring:
- Coughing at night or with physical activity
- Wheezing or whistling sounds with exhalation
- Troubled or rapid breathing
- Chest congestion or tightness
- Trouble sleeping due to troubled breathing, coughing, or wheezing
- Repeated or delayed recovery from respiratory infections
Additionally, your child's symptoms may get worse around asthma triggers like air irritants (smoke or odors) or allergens (pollen, pet dander, or dust mites).
If you suspect your child has asthma, talk to your child's doctor immediately. For children who are older than 5, their pediatrician can diagnose and treat asthma based on the results of an airflow lung function test (spirometry), medical history, and a physical exam -- listening to breathing and looking for signs of asthma. For children under 5, their pediatrician can diagnose and treat asthma based on medical and family history, signs and symptoms, and physical exams, says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The asthma severity will determine the treatment your pediatrician will start your child on.
Does Your Child Need an Asthma Specialist Referral?
Early treatment can help control daily asthma symptoms and may avert asthma attacks. In certain cases, your child's pediatrician may recommend the assistance of an asthma specialist to identify the causes and correct treatment options for asthma symptoms. Your child may need to see an asthma specialist if special tests are needed to assist with diagnosis, your child suffered a life-threatening asthma attack, more than one kind of medicine is needed to control your child's asthma, or your child's asthma is not well controlled.
If your child is diagnosed with asthma, it's essential to educate them and yourself about asthma and triggers. Keeping an asthma diary, creating and following an asthma action plan, and prescription medicines can all help your child breathe easy and stay active.