Wheezing is a whistling noise that occurs when the bronchial tubes which carry air to the lungs, narrow because of inflammation or mucus buildup. Wheezing is often present in asthma. Asthma is a chronic disease that affects 9% of children under 17 years or about 6.7 million children in the United States. Every year asthma accounts for 13 million missed school days, 200,000 hospitalizations and 750,000 visits to emergency departments. We would like to answer a few question about asthma in this article. The current guideline for diagnosing and treating asthma in children are 74 pages long so we cannot address everything but hopefully, we can address some of the big questions.
What is Asthma?
Let’s think of the lungs as an upside tree, with the trachea as the trunk. The trachea divides to direct air into both lungs and then branches into smaller and smaller airways to reach the microscopic sacs in the lungs where oxygen enters the blood. Asthma is a serious lung disease and inflammation of your airways is a major factor. Inflammation can make your airways more sensitive and more narrow than usual, making it hard to breathe if the inflammation caused by your asthma isn’t treated correctly, your symptoms may get worse. It is important to monitor your symptoms so that you can recognize when they are getting worse. Some say you may feel great, with no symptoms at all. That doesn’t mean your asthma has gone away. You can’t cure your asthma, but working along with your health care provider you can learn to manage it. People experiencing asthma symptoms feel chest tightness, shortness of breath, or a feeling of drowning.
What is Wheezing?
The key difference between asthma and wheezing is, wheezing is the musical polyphonic sound caused by partial narrowing of smaller airways while asthma is a a condition which is demarcated by reversible smaller airway obstructions due to recurrent bronchospasms. Therefore, the hallmark of Asthma is intermittent wheezing episodes. However, in Asthma, wheezing is accompanied by other symptoms such as chest tightness. In severe cases, when the airways close down so much that very little air is moving through them, this noise can go away completely, the lack of wheezing is not necessarily a good sign. Not all children with asthma wheeze. Wheezing is just one clue. Most true wheezing can be heard only with a stethoscope.
Is It Asthma?
So you or your child are having asthma like symptoms lately and now you’re wondering if it’s asthma. You’ve called a doctor and made an appointment. Now what? According to “Allergy and Asthma: Practical Diagnosis and Management”, asthma can be difficult to diagnose because there are many conditions that mimic asthma. Thus, “There is no specific test for asthma. Rather, one goes through a series of elimination processes until the diagnosis is arrived at.” Many other conditions can cause cough, wheezing, rapid or labored breathing or shortness of breath. Viral infections in young children will often cause wheezing, which isn’t necessarily related to asthma and may not respond to asthma treatments’. I could go on and on but you get the point. Diagnosing asthma is not always straightforward. There is no blood test or imaging study that can say whether or not a child has asthma. While it is frustrating to parent for doctor to dance around this diagnosis, we are for better or worse hesitant to label kids prematurely. It is tough to be perfect.
Is Asthma Inherited?
Asthma is not contagious. While its causes are still unknown, researchers have determined that asthma can be caused by both hereditary (inherited) and environmental factors. Just because you have a parent with asthma (or an allergy) doesn’t mean you’ll have it too. But you might inherit the tendency to develop asthma. Children with one or two parents who have asthma, allergies, or eczema are more likely to get these conditions themselves. But it doesn’t always happen. This is an area of ongoing research.
Asthma related to Other Conditions
Childhood eczema, obesity and rhinitis are strongly associated with the incidence and persistence of adult asthma. Other conditions associated with asthma are gastroesophageal reflux, sleep apnea, vitamin D deficiency. One of the keys to good asthma management is looking for these conditions and treating them if they are found. Food allergies do not typically cause asthma symptoms.
When Should I Call My Pediatrician
For symptoms like frequent cough or difficulty with exercise, schedule a visit with your pediatrician. If you child is breathing too fast or too hard, having difficulty catching his breath you should seek care at your pediatrician’s office or the emergency room immediately. The good news about asthma is that while we can’t make it go away completely, we can control the symptoms and allow even children with severe asthma to live very normal lives.
If you are concerned that your child has asthma symptoms, make an appointment to discuss their symptoms with a provider.
Contact Us (859-525-8181) if you have any questions!
About Pediatrics of Florence
We believe that children are more than just “little adults.” They have unique personalities, challenges, and life circumstances and we have made every effort to make our offices and care as “kid friendly” as possible. We have an aquatic theme in the waiting rooms (separated for sick and well children) as well as themed examination rooms. All of our physicians are Board Certified Pediatricians and members of the American Academy of Pediatrics and our nurse practitioners are all licensed Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and are available to see both well and sick children.
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