Asthma is a difficult disorder to deal with. Difficulty breathing is scary, and when a child is involved, it scares both parent and child. Understanding when these difficulties start and managing them appropriately will make a great deal of difference later in life.
What is asthma? Asthma is a lung disorder. The throat and bronchial pathways swell, muscles can spasm and mucus can become a problem. Attacks can range from barely noticeable to needing 911.
What is preschool wheezing? It is a condition that is becoming more common in some countries. The children who have the problem produce a whistling sound when they exhale. It can be caused by a number of things, including viruses.
Testing problems: Testing a baby, toddler or preschooler for lung function is difficult. The child needs to understand the instructions given by the person administering the test and then follow through as requested. The spirometry, a test that measures how much air is expelled in exhalation, is often too complicated for the child to understand.
Why is it a problem? Conventional wisdom used to be that wheezing in children wasn’t a particularly big deal. The wheezing was treated as it happened rather than taking preventative measures. Doctors concluded that most of the episodes were viral or caused by an irritant such as tobacco smoke. That isn’t what they believe now.
New study: After following patients for forty years it has been discovered that frequent bouts of preschool wheezing can cause serious lung function problems in later life. That includes children who had asthma that disappeared when they became adults. The problems most seen were asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder).
What can we do? There are no new tests (yet) for diagnosing asthma in children too young to test for it. However, the stethoscope can be quite useful during an asthma attack. There are things that can be watched for by parents in order to catch an attack when it happens.
In babies, watch how they are breathing when feeding them. Also take note of how fast they feed. If they are slow or get out of breath it could be asthma.
In young children, watch them as they play. Exercise can bring on an asthma attack. A child may not be willing to play exercise intensive games. When they do, you may notice that they get out of breath quickly and stop. Coughing during play could be another sign.
If you notice these signs, take your child to a pediatrician. Let the doctor know what you’ve observed. The lung sounds may be enough to diagnose the problem, and if it can be controlled at an early stage problems in later life may not be as bad.