5 Surprising Signs Your Child Has Asthma

A leading pediatrician and lung specialist with Shelby Pediatric Associates & Child Lung Center explains the signs parents may miss.

A yawn, a cough, a sniffle.

Most of the time, these minor symptoms are nothing to worry about. But experts say they could be a sign of something that needs your attention.

An estimated 8.4 percent of children under 18 years old have asthma, a chronic lung condition that narrows the airways. Identifying the problem and treating it is key to a child’s health and quality of life, but how can parents notice the signs when they’re mild?

“If they have a cough, parents automatically assume it’s a cold. It’s not necessarily a cold,” says Dr. Bhimsen Rao, a pediatrician and pediatric pulmonologist with Shelby Pediatric Associates & Child Lung Center in Shelby Township and Troy.

Even urgent care doctors can miss it due to limited time and only seeing the child once.

“The major problem is that most parents, and the doctors, don’t want to accept a diagnosis of asthma unless a child is wheezing,” he says, adding that bronchitis is often diagnosed instead. “They treat it but they don’t call it asthma.”

Parents may need to insist on testing or see a specialist if they’re concerned about their child’s ongoing symptoms, Dr. Rao explains. With that in mind, here’s a look at five of the most surprising signs that a child could have asthma.


Pay attention to your child’s coughs, especially a dry “hacking cough” that persists after a cold or causes a child to cough in the middle of the night.

“Nighttime cough is a telling sign of asthma,” Dr. Rao says.

Cough that occurs when a child is running around, laughing or crying is also a cause for concern. It can be tough to tell the difference if a child is also fighting a virus.

“It can happen even when you’re sick but can happen without being sick, too,” he says.

Shortness of breath

Feeling out of breath is a concerning symptom among children, especially since parents may brush it off as a sign that their child simply isn’t getting enough activity.

“They think it’s (due to) being out of shape, so they miss the warning sign,” Dr. Rao explains.

Tired easily

Likewise, a child who tires easily could actually be having trouble breathing.

“Tiredness is kind of related to being short of breath, like if the child is an athlete, playing baseball or soccer, and he’s not able to keep up with the other children,” he says. “If the child is a fairly normal size and has a normal BMI and he comes in with a symptom that he’s not keeping up with the other children, then we have to rule out asthma.”

Stuffy nose

Keep a close eye on a child’s stuffy nose.

“A stuffy nose for a child leads to difficulty breathing,” Dr. Rao points out. But if the difficulty breathing is actually due to asthma, “because the nose is stuffy, they can misconstrue it.”

Even assuming it’s a chronic cold or sinus infection can be a problem.

“Whatever is going on in the sinus, it could be going on in the lungs,” he adds.

A cold that doesn’t go away

If cold symptoms persist beyond the usual course of a virus, it may be time to talk to your doctor. This is especially true for children who have a family history of asthma or a persistent cough.

“Even if the doctors say they didn’t hear anything (in the child’s lungs), if they see these subtle signs they can ask, ‘Send me to a specialist,'” Dr. Rao emphasizes.

For more information or to make an appointment, visit shelbypediatricassociates.com.


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