What You Need To Know And Do About Infant Asthma

During the cold and flu season we hear all sorts of noises from our child and one might begin to wonder if the noise could be related to infant asthma. If you are not sure or have never heard wheezing, the wheezing with infant asthma might sound like this when your doctor listens with a stethoscope.

Because asthma is so common, currently 6 million children under the age of 6 have been diagnosed, you might rush to think the worse, but this is probably not asthma.

Not All That Wheezes Is Asthma

Viruses that can lead to symptoms that mimic infant asthma include the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza, and parainfluenza. These viruses are common causes of wheezing and this does not mean your infant has asthma. As a result your doctor may make a diagnosis of reactive airway disease. Other causes of wheezing in young infants include the following conditions:

  • upper respiratory tract infection (URI)
  • foreign object in the airway
  • CF or cystic fibrosis
  • a connection between your windpipe (trachea) and foodtube (esophagus) called a tracheoesophageal fistula
  • congenital heart disease

What Are The Symptoms of Infant Asthma

Wheezing & Infant Asthma Symptoms
Credit: Paparutzi @Flickr.com

What Are The Symptoms of Infant Asthma

One of the difficulties in diagnosing infant asthma is that your infant cannot tell you what is wrong. As a parent all you can do is tell your doctor what you hear and observe. This is often exrtremely difficult when the symptoms are mild or not typical/ Additionally, because asthma is more common if you have other children with asthma or allergies or one of the parents has asthma, your doctor will likely ask about your family history.

In adults,  asthma symptoms include:

  • wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath
  • cough

Your infant could present with all these symptoms or just one. Other symptoms that your doctor will likely enquire about include:

  • poor feeding
  • poor weight gain
  • labored breathing or sweating
  • appearing uncomfortable

Your doctor will also likely ask a series of questions. A 'yes' answer to any of the following will increase the likelihood your doctor may be considering a diagnosis of infant asthma:

  • Has your child wheezed before? Many children will wheeze a little bit after a URI, but multiple episodes of wheezing will make your doctor suspicious of infant asthma.
  • Does your infant cough at night? A nighttime cough is one of the questions doctor use to monitor asthma control and will make them think more seriously about infant asthma.
  • Does your infant wheeze after exposure to allergens such as cockroaches, mold, certain grasses, or animal dander?
  • Do irritants like strong perfumes or cigarette smoke lead to wheezing?
  • Does your baby have trouble finishing a bottle? If it takes your baby a long time to finish their bottle or has to work really hard to finish a bottle, this could a sign of breathing difficulty.

What Tests Will My Doctor Do To Diagnose Infant Asthma?

There is no magical blood test or x-ray that will tell your doctor that your child has infant asthma. Your doctor may perform the following tests if your child is wheezing.

  • complete blood count- to make sure that it does not appear that your child has a bacterial infection.
  • chest x-ray- to make sure that there is not an infection like pneumonia or signs of a foreign body obstruction
  • pulse oximetry- a small device placed on a finger to determine how well oxygen is getting into your blood.

Infant Asthma Treatment

Infant asthma is treated in a very similar fashion to adult asthma. This may include short acting drugs to relive symptoms like albuterol and oral steroids in the short trem and inhaled steroids for long term control. Your doctor may elect to start treatment or watch your symptoms over time if they are not too serious.

In general, while all the side effects you read about on a package insert can be really scary, asthma medications are are generally well tolerated by young kids

When Do I Need To Call The Doctor For Infant Asthma

Knowing when to call the doctor or head to the emergency room is an important skill for the parent of a child with infant asthma. If your child has never wheezed previously, than you should just head to the ER.

Additionally, any of the following symptoms or signs need immediate attention form a healthcare provider:

  • retractions- when your child's skin pulls in with each breath. You may see this in between the ribs.
  • continuous coughing or breathing very fast
  • Becoming pale or blue

Infant Asthma & Retractions