Signs and Symptoms to Watch for when diagnosing Asthma
1. Diagnosing Asthma begins with determine what type it may be.
If your child has asthma, she will generally fit into one of the first three types of asthma as described here. Consider each of the following scenarios and see if you think your child fits one of them:
- Allergic asthma. Your child has generally been well for the first few years of her life. Over the past several months, however, you’ve noticed she seems to breathe slightly faster on occasion, she often has a cough at night that wakes you up, she has to stop to catch her breath more frequently while playing, and you sometimes hear an audible wheezing sound when she exhales. You notice on some afternoons she really seems to be breathing harder than usual, but she generally goes about her daily life without noticing this. Although some days she seems perfectly well, the number of problem days seems to be increasing.
- Reactive airway disease RAD. Your child had a very bad cold at 4 months of age that caused several weeks of wheezing. Your doctor may or may not have diagnosed him with RSV (a very common cold virus). Since then, every time he catches a cold, it goes to his chest and causes several days of wheezing that sometimes requires an inhaled medication for relief. He is generally fine in between colds.
- Infant asthma. Your nine-month-old has had many colds since birth, but has generally been well. Recently the colds have seemed to affect him more, causing rapid, labored breathing with audible wheezing. He begins to have these episodes of wheezing several times a week, even when not sick with a cold. The number of wheezing days seems to be greater than the well days.
- Exercise induced bronchospasm (EIB). Your ten-year-old has always been athletic, and nothing ever slowed her down before. Now, however, she complains of chest tightness and pain during sport practices and games. She has to sit down frequently to catch her breath. Another common EIB scenario: Your two-year-old seems to have coughing fits while running around and playing hard. Sometimes it slows him down, and other times he is fine. He never has any other problems with breathing.
- Nighttime cough. Your child is completely healthy, but for months or years she has had a nagging, tight-sounding cough at night that wakes her up several times. This could be a mild form of asthma due to a bedroom allergy.
- Seasonal wheezing. Your child may have any of the above scenarios only during a particular season. There may be a seasonal spring allergy involved, or sensitivity to smog pollution during the summer.
2. Determine how long the symptoms lasts.
One of the most important aspects of diagnosing asthma is to consider how long the symptoms have been going on. Many children who do not have asthma may have occasional problems with chest tightness, wheezing, nighttime coughing, not tolerating exercise well, or bad colds that cause wheezing.
Dr. Sears advice on diagnosing asthma:
It is important not to label a child as having asthma until the symptoms have been going on for several months, or on and off for six months.
Remember, that just because a child isn’t labeled with asthma during this time period, doesn’t mean you should ignore it. You should still attempt to determine the cause and seek treatment if necessary. It is simply better to not actually label it as asthma until it really goes on for a while.
3. Visit your doctor to check for wheezing.
It is important for you to visit your doctor several times when you think your child is wheezing or having an asthma attack. This helps the doctor determine if your child is actually wheezing or simply has noisy breathing from chest or nasal congestion. Documenting several wheezing episodes in the doctor’s office can help make the diagnosis of asthma. You may find that what you perceive to be wheezing is really just congestion and may not be related to asthma at all.
If your doctor does detect wheezing on several occasions, he or she can help you determine if your child really does has asthma, and which type of asthma it may be.