Does this Mean My Baby or Toddler Has Asthma?

Depends what “this” is.

An asthma diagnosis doesn’t come easy during the very early ages, partly because flare symptoms can mimic other issues and partly because little kids just can’t tell you what’s going on inside their bodies. You can end up spending a lot of time and money carting your infant to appointment after appointment and ER after ER and trying prescription after prescription before figuring out, finally, what’s really wrong. And your total loss of free time and the strain on your budget of co-payments for medicines that don’t work are minor compared to the uncontrolled flaring your baby or toddler has to breathe through in the meantime.

Understanding asthma’s early warning signals in infants and toddlers can cut through a lot of the confusion. I probably could’ve saved my own child from months – possibly years – of more or less continuous flaring, had I not been a first-time parent whose inexperience with babies meant I just didn’t recognize the difference between her breathing and “normal” breathing.

These signs don’t necessarily mean your infant has asthma, of course, but they can. If you harbor suspicions, take them to your pediatrician. This disorder tends to be best controlled if it is caught early and controlled immediately.

Possible Early Warning Signs of Asthma for Babies and Toddlers
You’re looking for consistency here, a pattern of recurrent breathing problems, not minor, random symptoms that pop up out nowhere and then disappear.

Wheezing
This is a whistling sound you can hear when someone exhales. Newborns, especially, can wheeze for a variety of reasons, and wheezing is actually not the most common asthma symptom (coughing is), as stereotypes suggest. Meaning, keep an eye out for some of these other symptoms as well.

Coughing
By “coughing,” I mean coughing for no obvious reason, coughing that doesn’t stop or comes in regular spurts, coughing that lingers for an abnormally long time after an illness, coughing at night, or regular coughing during exercise. Coughing during a cold or the flu is, obviously, just as normal for little kids as it is for adults. And your child may experience a lingering cough after being sick even sans asthma. Again, you want to watch for a pattern of lingering coughs, not just an isolated incident.

Loud Breathing
If you can hear your kid’s breathing all the time, that’s not such a good sign. It might not be asthma and could indicate allergies, sinus issues, or even just a baby’s reaction to a cold, but mention any regular loud breathing to your pediatrician, especially if it occurs during the healthy times.

Fast Breathing
Learn how to count your child’s respiratory rate. While children and adults tend to breathe faster during illness, they should otherwise fall within the normal respiratory rates.

Recurring Croup, Pneumonia, Bronchitis, Bronchiolitis, Etc.
To give you an idea, I have two daughters and only one has asthma. As a younger kid, she was diagnosed with bronchiolitis once, bronchitis once, and pneumonia three times. Her non-asthmatic sister? None of them.

Subtle Signals
Excessive throat clearing, sighing, yawning, fatigue, or eye rubbing; snoring; and irritability can also indicate breathing problems in a baby or very young child. They can signify a whole slew of other issues, too, including colic and allergies, so if any of these symptoms appear excessive or noticeable enough to make you worry, make an appointment with your child’s doctor to talk about them – especially if you have a family history of asthma and allergies or your child has other risk factors.

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Whatever you do, please don’t print this post out, bring it to your kid’s next appointment and say,
“It’s asthma, I JUST KNOW IT. See? The Asthma Mom told me so.”

That’s not what I’m saying.

What I’m saying is, keep an eye on things. Bring questions and symptoms to your pediatrician. Be informed, and be aware that asthma is a possibility.

Warning signals culled from my experience with my asthma kid, the comments section of this Asthma Mom reader response, and these sources:

Asthma and Allergy Federation of America
Mayo Clinic
WebMD

**Updated to reflect the comments.