25 Things You Need To Know About Wheezing In Children
Has your little one been spending sleepless nights because of wheezing? If you want to know more about this condition and what causes it, check out this article.
By Dr Harish VS • 7 min read
When nine-year-old Vineet gets up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath and making rasping sounds as his chest moves up and down, it is a scary sight for his parents. Just ten days into the new academic year, Vineet had to miss school as he had another bout of wheezing. A visit to the doctor confirmed that his wheezing was caused by a viral chest infection.
Like Vineet, many school-going kids can develop wheezing when they have a chest infection.
Here are 25 things you should know about wheezing and the ways to treat it:
- When your child exhales, if you hear a whistling, musical sound, it is most likely he is suffering from wheezing.
- When your child is attacked by viruses, the walls of the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs become swollen and narrow. When air travels through the affected tubes, it gives out a wheezing sound.
- This sound can be heard even without a stethoscope.
- Your child’s wheezing can be accompanied by a cough or fever. Your child can even have wheezing without these symptoms.
- Wheezing is a symptom, whereas asthma is a disease. All children under five years of age who have a wheeze, do not have asthma.
- However, if your child is five years or older, and has wheezing, then it could be a sign of asthma.
- If your child is below five years of age, even a common cold caused by a viral infection can lead to wheezing.
- Wheezing is common in small children. One-third of children under five years of age have wheezing at some point in time.
- Most children with childhood wheezing will not develop asthma when they grow older.
- A fraction of these children can also have wheezing at other times, and not only when they develop a cold.
- Children with a family history of asthma or who tend to wheeze when exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke are more likely to develop asthma in future.
- In small children, wheezing can also be a symptom of bronchiolitis.
- Bronchiolitis is quite common during the winter months for babies less than six months of age.
- Wheezing becomes intense during the night. As the airways get narrowed due to wheezing, air or oxygen flow to the lungs is affected. This leads to a build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood. This, in turn, triggers the brain to wake up or stay awake or even cough through the night.
- The best way to prevent wheezing caused by a viral infection is to prevent a cold or a flu attack. Washing hands regularly and avoiding infected people can help to some extent in preventing a flu attack.
- Using disposable tissues when you have a cold is a major way to prevent it from spreading to others.
- For children with asthma, try to avoid the triggering factors for a wheeze. For example, ensure a smoke-free environment for a child who starts wheezing when exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke. It will prevent the wheezing episode and protect him from asthma too.
- In a majority of children, food is not related to wheezing. A child with wheezing can have a normal diet.
- In some children, food allergies can trigger wheezing. Those children who have parents with food allergies have the tendency to develop similar allergies.
- If your child is wheezing continuously, he either needs an inhaler or a nebulizer. Generally, inhalers are preferred as these are user-friendly and parents can easily learn how to use these at home.
- It is a myth that those children who use inhalers become dependent on them.
- A wrong technique of using inhalers will hinder a child's recovery and not allow her to breathe better.
- For immediate relief from wheezing, inhalers called relievers are often used. Generally, you get relief in 10 to 20 minutes. If the relief is short-lived, either the technique is wrong or the inhaler dose is not enough. Do consult your doctor if there is no or very little relief.
- When inhaler use does not help to relieve the symptoms at all, the child should be taken to the nearest hospital emergency ward. The child may need a nebulizer with oxygen. This may be due to severe airway narrowing and lack of oxygen supply. The doctor may prescribe a steroid tablet or syrup for those who have severe airway narrowing. Such children may also require reliever nebulizer more frequently than anticipated.
- Sometimes, the child may also require medicines if the airway tubes are too narrow to expand immediately. For those children who wheeze regularly or get frequent asthma attacks, the paediatrician may give an asthma action plan to manage the condition better.
The author is a pediatric pulmonologist.
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