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Asthma symptoms in infants and young children

In young children, cough is often the only symptom of asthma.

Asthma symptoms generally include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, but asthma symptoms vary widely among children. Some cough all night but are symptom-free during the day, while others seem to get frequent chest colds that just won't go away.

Children have very small, narrow airways, and can wheeze when they have a viral infections. First episodes of cough, runny nose and fever that happen in cold and flu season (fall, winter and early spring) is likely not asthma. If your child has several more episodes of wheeze and cough, it is more likely to be asthma. The most common cause of asthma in infants and children under three years of age is a cold. Even after the cold is gone, asthma symptoms and airway swelling can last for several weeks. 

Diagnosing asthma in young children

Healthcare providers are often reluctant to give a diagnosis of asthma to infants and very young children because children often cough and wheeze with colds, chest infections like bronchitis, and other conditions responsible for asthma-like symptoms.

Since there is no diagnostic test available for children younger than six years of age, making a diagnosis in this age group is more difficult than in older children. Over the age of about six it is possible for a child to have a spirometry test. This is a simple test that measures a child's airflow through the large and small airways. Results reveal if the child's airflow can be improved with medication. Reversibility of airway obstruction is a key feature of asthma. If administering a bronchodilator reverses airway narrowing significantly, the diagnosis is probably asthma.

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