Many parents have found themselves in this situation: their young child is experiencing respiratory discomfort, and is coughing and wheezing but can’t explain exactly how they feel.
Allergies could be the culprit, but similar symptoms are also shared with asthma, a chronic lung disease that impacts breathing. These similarities can make it challenging for parents to know what their child is suffering from.
No parent wants to see their child sick or uncomfortable, so it’s important to understand the differences (and similarities!) between allergies and asthma to ensure your child gets the proper care and treatment they need to breathe easy all year long.
What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?
Most asthmatics are diagnosed in early childhood, and it can be a challenging diagnosis as young children are highly susceptible to respiratory illnesses or can also begin to develop seasonal or other allergies. And because your child also may not be able to properly communicate how they feel, the more you know about the symptoms of asthma the more effective you can be in helping your child.
Symptoms of asthma include:
- Coughing. Coughs are important to monitor as they do not always have to be persistent to be a symptom of asthma. You may also notice the cough worsens at night.
- Wheezing. A wheezing sound is an indication that your child is having difficulty breathing. Wheezing can occur on intake or exhalation of breath.
- Shortness of Breath. Short or quickened breathing indicates compromised lung capacity and often worsens during exertion. This symptom may be difficult for your child to communicate depending on their age, but can be observed, especially if there are other symptoms present.
- Chest Tightness. A feeling of tightness in the chest is often associated with shortness of breath due to constricted or narrowed airways.
- Exhaustion. Often, children suffering from asthma symptoms also experience difficulty sleeping, or can become easily fatigued during activity due to trouble breathing.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, you should have them seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
Does My Child Have Asthma or Could it be Allergies?
While only a doctor can make a final determination about your child’s symptoms, allergies do cause very similar reactions to asthma and should be closely monitored as well.
Allergies occur when our immune systems mistake a harmless substance for a harmful one and react to fight it off. Allergies are common in people of all ages, and while they tend to flare up during spring and summer when pollen is plentiful, they can also be caused by a multitude of other substances, including:
- Pet dander
- Certain foods
- Household products like detergents or fragrant soaps
The most common allergic reactions, especially seasonally, typically affect the sinuses (ears, nose and throat), or cause skin flare-ups like hives or a rash.
If you believe your child is suffering from allergies, the most important step to take is to determine the cause. Allergies cannot be cured, but they can be managed with medications or simply by avoiding the allergen.
Parents should also be aware of the potential for an allergic reaction to bring on symptoms of asthma in a child.
When an allergic reaction causes asthma symptoms, it’s called allergy-induced asthma, or allergic asthma. As the body’s immune system begins fighting off the perceived harmful substance, it can react with asthma-type symptoms like coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest.
For this reason, it’s important to pay attention to your child’s symptoms and whether they occur intermittently or in response to a potential trigger, such as direct contact with the family dog or following use of a new type of laundry detergent.
How Is Allergy-Induced Asthma Treated?
Typically, asthma and allergies are treated separately, but when they are linked, there are treatments designed to help with both.
Treatments can range from a daily pill that calms the immune system’s reaction to allergens, to a regular shot that can provide immunotherapy; reducing the immune system’s response by exposing it to the allergen slowly over time.
While the type of treatment and effectiveness varies for everyone, there are options for individuals suffering from allergies, asthma, or allergy-induced asthma to relieve what can be challenging and uncomfortable symptoms.
Understanding the symptoms and primary differences between allergies and asthma is important, especially where children are concerned. And once a diagnosis is made, it is also critical to understand the triggers so as to anticipate and avoid flare-ups. Knowing the facts helps everyone breathe a little easier.