What Infant Asthma Symptoms Are Warning Signs?

Infant Asthma
Infant Asthma. Photo © Photodisc

Question: What Infant Asthma Symptoms Are Warning Signs?


Infant asthma symptoms can be very scary and many times parents aren't sure whether they should call their doctor. In general, if you are worried about whether or not to call your doctor, it's probably a good idea to go ahead and give a call.

If your child experiences any of the following infant asthma symptoms, consider calling your doctor or bringing your infant in to be seen immediately. All of the following are warning signs that your infant is having trouble breathing. These could be infant asthma symptoms or could be due to another condition that causes wheezing.

Infant Asthma Symptoms- Warning Signs

  • Your baby's wheezing occurs while breathing both in and out.
  • The skin on your baby's chest gets pulled in as they take breathes in. Your doctor refers to this as a retraction. You can watch this video of a baby having retractions.
  • Nasal flaring- Movements of the nose as your infant breathes. This video demonstrates flaring in adult, but it is essentially the same in your child.
  • Coughing that has become continuous.
  • Very fast breathing- More than 50 breaths a minute while your infant is sleeping.
  • Your baby will no longer take the breast or the bottle or appears to be having significant problems feeding.
  • Your baby develops grunting (short soft pushing sounds at the end of each breath) while feeding.
  • Becoming pale.
  • Blue lips or fingernails (called cyanosis).

Not All Infant Asthma Symptoms Are An Emergency

Sometimes it is just really difficult to even know if your baby's symptoms are asthma or not. One of the things that is hard for new parents or even parents with several children is that babies can't talk. Babies make lots of funny noises and you may not know what wheezing sounds like. Your doctor will rely on you as the parent as to what your baby is doing.

They will likely ask you about other issues your baby may be having as described above and other things like ability to eat and drink normally, if your baby is coughing, and appears to be more tired than usual.

Furthermore, sometimes the signs of asthma can be subtle. Not every child will experience classic asthma symptoms including:

Your child could experience some mixture of these and may not always experience all of them. They could also still have asthma and you may not recognize these symptoms. This is one of the things that makes diagnosing asthma difficult.

You will want to be able to describe exactly what you see going on with your child. Your doctor will also want to know if asthma or allergies run in your family.

Your doctor will also likely ask about coughing at night. This is one of the more subtle symptoms of asthma as many parents assume this is just a virus or an allergen problem. Additionally, your doctor will ask and you should pay attention to your child's symptoms after exposure to allergens such as animals, dust mites, cockroaches, or mold. If you think your child's breathing is different after any of these exposures than you should definitely let your doctor know.

Your doctor will also likely ask about smoking in the home. Tobacco smoke is an irritant that increases your child's risk of developing wheezing. If you smoke your doctor should tell you something like you should quit and that it is the single best thing you could likely due for your child's health. Quitting smoking is not easy, but it is achievable and will improve both you and your child's health.

Does your child have any funky rashes or get a rash regularly? Atopic dermatitis and eczema skin signs that your child might have an allergic condition. If your child has a rash that might be allergic, your doctor should also consider an allergic cause if your child has wheezing.

It is important that even if you do identify that your child is wheezing, it may not be asthma. Wheezing can be caused by a number of different diseases. If your child has never wheezed before or has recently expereinced a worsening of wheezing, it is probably a a good idea to see your doctor. A number of viruses, most commonly RSV, can lead to wheezing. Other viruses tha may lead to wheezing include influenza and parainfluenza. All of these are more common in the winter months.

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Article Sources
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.  Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma
  • Asthma. In Chest Medicine: Essentials Of Pulmonary And Critical Care Medicine. Editors: Ronald B. George, Richard W. Light, Richard A. Matthay, Michael A. Matthay. May 2005, 5th edition.
  • Tilles, Stephen. Differential Diagnosis of Asthma. Medical Clinics of North America. Vol. 90 (2006):61–76